SALT LAKE CITY — The Orem Tigers weren’t just trying to win their second consecutive state title when they ran onto the field at Rice-Eccles Friday morning.
They planned to make a statement.
“I’d say, right now, we’re the best team in the state, no matter classification,” said Orem quarterback Cooper Legas after the Tigers steamrolled Dixie 60-13 to claim the 4A state title. “People have talked all year long about how we aren’t that good because (we’re) only 4A, but that’s where we have to play, so all we can do is destroy teams to show how good we really are.”
Orem scored on its first two drives, and despite losing 130 yards on 15 penalties, the top-ranked Tigers accumulated 573 total yards against the classification’s top defense. Their offense was so prolific, they scored about every way possible — passing, rushing, interception returned for a touchdown and a punt returned for a touchdown.
The game started with a 14-yard rushing touchdown from Legas, who finished with one rushing touchdown and three passing touchdowns. USC-bound receiver Puka Nacua broke the state record for receiving touchdowns in a season when he caught his 26th touchdown pass of the season — a 55-yard throw early in the fourth quarter. It was a beautiful throw from Legas that ended the team’s shortest drive of two plays in 53 seconds.
Buju Tuisavura scored back-to-back touchdowns in the third quarter, with an interception returned 33 yards for a score, followed by a 49-yard run that capped a 64-yard drive.
Running back Noah Sewell ended the team’s scoring with a 33-yard rushing touchdown with 2:41 to play.
“We’ve just got a lot of weapons everywhere,” he said. “You’ve got to pick your poison when you play us. … We’re just blessed with a lot of great athletes.”
As the team celebrated behind him, head coach Jeremy Hill, doused by his players with a cooler of water, tried to put the accomplishment of this season into words.
“The sun is shining,” he said, smiling. “One was fun, but twice is nice. We had so much fun out here. These boys are resilient, they have worked hard, and you know, the penalties were more than I would have liked to have, but we just played our game. We played hard … and I’m proud of these boys. I love them. They came out here and just fired. I’ve got no more words.”
Hill heaped praise on Nacua, saying they were aware he needed two touchdowns to break the record, which he earned, setting the new mark at 26.
“There is not a better receiver to ever come through here and this shows it,” Hill said. “The kid is smart, athletic, and he just loves this, which makes it special for all of us to be around him.”
When it came to his quarterback and the leadership he provided, Hill said he couldn’t have designed a better situation.
“Cooper Legas,” he said. “If I could have built a player, kind of like they used to do on ‘Weird Science’ movies, that’s who I’d put together. The guy is a machine. He can run the ball, he can throw the ball, and he’s just a stud.”
Dixie scored its first touchdown when quarterback Reggie Graff connected with Josh Cazier for a 37-yard touchdown pass. Graff ran 18 yards in the fourth quarter for the team's final score. Despite the lopsided stats, Dixie head coach Blaine Monkres said he was proud of his team's effort.
"I'm proud of them," Monkres said. "They battled all year long, and I didn't think they quit today. They didn't give up. Orem is a good team. We came out here and the kids fought hard. When you're picked to finish fourth in the region, and you are playing for the state title, that's a credit to the type of kids we have in the program."
Hill also had plenty of praise for his offensive and defensive linemen, who were the foundation of everything the Tigers managed to build.
Senior defensive lineman Rylen Sua’filo said they’d been working since March in hopes of winning back-to-back titles.
“We had the mentality that we were the best team in the state, and we just kept that mentality throughout the season. And here we are standing over here state champs.”
He said the team never paid attention to rankings or ratings. They didn’t worry about who got credit or who earned praise. They simply worked as hard as they could to do something special, something they’d done as Little League players.
“This one means a little bit more because as kids we went back to back too,” he said. “I grew up with all of these guys, and just repeating felt like we were playing ball in the field again as kids.”
Legas said he was trying not to think about how Friday’s accomplishment mirrored what he and his friends accomplished in elementary school because it was starting to sink in that the championship ended their time as teammates.24 comments on this story
“If I start remembering all that stuff, I’ll get sad,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.”
Offensive lineman Hunter Hill said he couldn’t stop thinking about how he felt about the boys crowding around that trophy with him.
“I moved in from American Fork when I was in fourth grade, and they accepted me immediately and welcomed me,” he said. “They’re my brothers. I would do anything for them. … I know this is the last time for us to play together, and after this, our names will be spoken as legends of this team. This has been an absolutely fun ride.”