SALT LAKE CITY – All the attention was on the two prolific passing games, but it was defense and the Orem running game that ruled the day as the Tigers beat Mountain Crest 26-0 Friday to capture the 4A state championship at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
With the weather cold and rainy, the passing games of the Tigers and Mustangs took a backseat. But Orem was perfectly content to turn to its stable of runners, led by Peter Kenese and Klaysen Christianson.
The duo, along with quarterback Cooper Legas and fullback Trevor Rockey, broke open long runs on big holes created by the offensive line. All totaled, the Tigers racked up 245 rushing yards – not a huge number until considering the sometimes horizontal snow and rain.
Christianson ended up with 90 rushing yards and a TD, while the trio of Legas, Kenese and Raphael Cooper combined for 153 yards. The Tigers averaged 6.4 yards per rush in the contest.
With the sharp running game in place, Orem could afford to have superstar receiver Puka Nacua have a quiet game, especially when considering the high level at which the Tiger defense was operating.
Mountain Crest, which came into the game averaging 32 points a game, only crossed the 50-yard line once the entire game. The Mustangs made it all the way to the Orem 15 on their only sustained drive of the day in the second quarter. But that drive, like every Mt. Crest drive of the game, ended in frustration after a pair of Orem sacks and a missed field goal.
On the day, Mt. Crest totaled just 137 yards of offense and quarterback Brady Hall, who threw for nearly 4,000 yards and ran for more than 700 this season, finished with 76 passing yards and 10 rushing yards in the game.
“This is every high school athlete’s dream, right here,” Nacua said. “I’m on the highest of mountains right now.”
Both teams played it very conservative in the first half. Orem broke the scoreless tie with 5:02 left in the fist quarter on a 23-yard field goal by Canyon Esplin. The score came after the first of three Hall interceptions.
Orem made it 6-0 in the second quarter on a 25-yarder by Esplin. That 3-pointer came after Hall’s second interception.
But the game started to get away from the Mustangs after halftime. Orem took over at its own 34 and scored in four plays to start the third quarter. The big strike was a long pass from Legas to Rockey (31 yards). Christianson finished off the drive with a punishing 13-yard run off left tackle, dragging would be tacklers into the end zone.
Early in the fourth quarter, after yet another Mt. Crest punt (MC had seven of them), Nacua finally broke free and caught a TD pass from 13 yards out. It was his 24th TD catch of the season. That made it 19-0 with 11:15 left in the game and, as the snow and wind picked up, so did Orem’s chances of winning the state title.
Mt. Crest never threatened to score in the fourth quarter and the Tigers put the game away with an 8-yard Legas TD run.
With it, Orem captured its fifth overall state championship and its first since 1994. The Tigers finish 12-2, while Mt. Crest ends the year 12-2.
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