SALT LAKE CITY — Week after week in practice this season, Corner Canyon head coach Eric Kjar watched his defense dominate his offense, which was saying something considering the Chargers had the top scoring offense in 5A, averaging nearly 50 points per game.
Kjar had full confidence the dominance would translate into Friday night’s 5A championship against Skyridge at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“Our defense kicks our butt on offense every day in practice. We do have some competitive periods and we get pretty much destroyed every day by them,” said Kjar. “With (Skyridge’s) similar spread type scheme, we felt like they matched up really well.”
That’s exactly how it played out, with Corner Canyon’s defense frustrating Skyridge all night as the Chargers avenged last year’s semifinal loss with a convincing 31-14 victory for the first football state championship in school history.
“This week it was a different level in practice for sure, they were pretty jacked up and ready to go. Practices were pretty intense this week, and they were fired up,” said Kjar.
It took Corner Canyon’s offense awhile to get going, but in the second half, quarterback Cole Hagen threw three of his four touchdowns and finished with 240 yards as his team wrapped up a perfect 12-0 season.
The Chargers patiently tried to establish the run early on, and Kjar believes that sticking with it even when Skyridge’s stingy defense was getting stops opened things up in the passing game later in the second half.
“They have a really solid defense, it took us a little bit to get them figured out, but once we did we were able to get some drives going and get into the end zone,” Hagen said.
While the offense gradually found its groove, the defense was clicking from the opening kickoff, but did have to battle through some nervy moments in the second half.
A year ago, Corner Canyon had a 19-point lead in the semifinals against Skyridge and lost, so Skyridge wasn’t about to wilt, even when it fell behind 24-7 on an Austin Bell 11-yard TD pass from Hagen with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Skyridge responded with a quick 64-yard drive that only chewed 2:15 off the clock and cut the lead to 24-14 on a Ma’a Notoa 2-yard TD run.
The Falcons' defense responded by forcing a quick three and out, setting up the offense with great field position. With quarterback Dylan Samuels leading the way with runs around the edge, Skyridge methodically marched into the red zone, and a Samuels 20-yard run set up first and goal at the 8-yard line.
Corner Canyon’s defense, which had been great all night, buckled down and stuffed Skyridge on a third and goal from the 2 and then batted away a pass on fourth down in the corner of the end zone.
“We just said this is going to be a game-changer right here, we’ve got to show everything we’ve got and play every play like it’s our last,” said Corner Canyon defensive end Max Swensen on the goal-line stand.
Skyridge’s coaches said they never considered kicking a field goal, which could’ve cut the deficit to seven points with over eight minutes remaining.
By the time Skyridge’s offense touched the ball again, the game was out of reach.
Taking over at his own 2-yard line, Hagen engineered a 98-yard scoring drive that he capped with his second TD pass to Noah Kjar, this one an 18-yard strike with 6:27 left for the 31-14 lead.
“Really proud of him, couldn’t be more proud. He works his butt off, so it’s good to see him have some success with this team and all these guys,” said coach Kjar about his son scoring two touchdowns in the championship.
Hagen’s first touchdown to Noah Kjar gave Corner Canyon a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter, and came three plays after Skyridge fumbled the ball deep in its own territory.
Skyridge’s offense only had two first downs up until that point, but the fumble seemed to be the wake-up call it needed as Clemons started making plays through the air when he got the ball back. He completed 3 of 4 passes on Skyridge’s ensuing drive for 63 yards and then punched it in on the 1-yard burst.10 comments on this story
The score trimmed the lead to 10-7, and when Niko Toilolo intercepted Hagen’s first pass on the next series, the Falcons had 1:12 remaining to try to steal momentum before halftime.
That drive ended with an interception by Andrew McDonald at the goal line, preserving the 10-7 halftime lead.
Corner Canyon then pushed the lead to 17-7 early in the third quarter as Jon Mitchell corralled a 25-yard pass from Hagen at the back of the end zone.
In the loss, Clemons was the bright spot offensively for Skyridge as he finished with 144 passing yards and 85 rushing yards, but he was forced to watch the last six minutes of the game from the bench with a hand injury.