SALT LAKE CITY — Skyridge head coach Jon Lehman said his team is so focused on each game, they might not realize next week’s contest is for the 5A state title.
“The thing I love about our guys is they keep focused on the day to day,” he said after the second-ranked Falcons avenged an earlier loss to Roy with a dominating 42-15 win at Rice-Eccles Stadium. “I don’t even know if our guys know next week is the championship. It’s just week 14.”
It turns out, his players are aware their next game is for the title, but they say their focus on each step is what allowed them to satisfy the hunger that finishing second last season created.
“It feels good,” said running back Ma’a Notoa, who had two touchdowns in the win. “We always try to go week by week because you won’t make it here if you don’t win games.”
Quarterback Jayden Clemons added that it’s all that effort at practices that makes celebrating a semifinal win so enjoyable.
“It feels amazing,” said Clemons of earning a trip to next week’s championship game where they’ll meet the number one team in the state, in any classification, in Corner Canyon. “It’s hard work, really hard work ... summer, spring and fall that is paying off.”
Notoa's first touchdown was the embodiment of how the Falcons offense dominated Roy in the first half of the game, taking a 35-7 lead into halftime. The senior scored the first touchdown of the game by hurdling one defender and throwing another out of the way as he rumbled into the end zone just four minutes into the game.
When asked about developing that kind of physicality without sacrificing execution, he made it sound unremarkable.
“It just all has to do with practices,” Notoa said. “Each week coach makes sure we’re ready. …He’ll get on us if we’re not physical enough.”
Notoa acknowledged that the Royals fought back in the second half, but they just held tighter to the training and principles that got them to that game.
“They came out for sure and they definitely starting blitzing more,” he said. “They came out with a different game plan in the second half.”
When the game got emotional, Lehman said they looked to each other to “stay within themselves.”
“We know we want to play with great energy,” he said. “But we want to tie it to discipline. I thought our guys did a good job of keeping their energy up and playing physical. When things got chippy, they just continued to do their jobs and just execute.”
Notoa finished with two touchdowns, while Clemons proved his versatility earning 76 yards rushing, 152 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Blayden Togiai had a 10-yard pick-six that helped shift momentum in the Falcons favor midway through the second quarter, even though he took no credit for making the play.
It wasn’t me at all,” he said. “It was the d-line getting a rush on the quarterback, giving him pressure, and making him feel uncomfortable…so he’d throw a ball that he usually doesn’t throw,” Togiai said. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
He noticed a shift in the team’s confidence as he watched the offense take over from the sideline.Comment on this story
“It was after the fact when I was on the sideline,” Togiai said, “I noticed how that kind of changed the table for us.”
Lehman said the fact that the three-year-old school has a second shot at a championship is a testament to the commitment of his players.
“It’s rare and awesome,” he said. “And I’m proud of the effort of these guys.”
He credited his seniors for being the kind of example that allows for success on the field, and Togiai echoed that sentiment.
“It’s really just leadership throughout the program,” he said. “That’s really the only way we can be here.”