The first 25 seconds of Cary Whittingham’s head coaching career could not have gone any better.
The last three minutes of his first game almost went perfectly, as well.
But the visiting Alta Hawks held on for a 33-31 victory Friday when Timpview missed a winning field-goal attempt with 10 seconds remaining.
So a night that began with an interception leading to a touchdown run for the Thunderbirds ended in disappointment in the debut of the younger brother of University of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Just the same, Cary Whittingham deserves credit for a bold strategy that gave the Thunderbirds their last shot at a dramatic win.
After quarterback Jake Lloyd’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Braydon Galland cut Alta’s lead to two points with 2:59 remaining, Whittingham chose to kick off deep, rather than try an onside kick. That was risky, because Timpview was out of timeouts. But his decision worked as the Hawks went three-plays-and-out, then punted to the Timpview 40-yard line with 1:17 left.
Lloyd steadily moved the Thunderbirds into field-goal position, but Tyler Solarzano’s 35-yard attempt sailed wide and Alta escaped.
Actually, the Hawks won because Chipper Lucero threw three touchdown passes in bouncing back from that early interception, and Alta’s defense dominated the third quarter.
Including a safety, the Hawks outscored Timpview 16-0 in the quarter to take a 33-24 lead. Alta seemingly was in command, only to make mistakes that gave the Thunderbirds a chance.
Whittingham, 49, was promoted in late May after Louis Wong resigned as head coach following an audit of the school’s financial statements. Wong, Whittingham’s former BYU teammate, posted a 77-10 record in seven seasons, including a 36-game winning streak and four consecutive Class 4A state championships (2006-09).
“There’s some pressure here, obviously,” Whittingham said. “A lot of expectations … looming over your head.”
There’s also the issue of living up to the standards of a brother who has a 66-25 record at Utah through seven seasons.
Cary Whittingham is accustomed to stress, having spent more than a decade in police work in Sandy and Provo before becoming a full-time coach five years ago. After working as a school resource officer, he was scheduled to take a patrol assignment. That’s when a teaching and coaching position opened at Timpview, and he took it.
Kyle Whittingham, who beat Arizona in his first game as Utah’s coach in 2005, said Cary’s steady demeanor will serve him well in this job. “Players have got to know what to expect,” he said. “I think they get that from him.”
In the first half, Cary Whittingham’s biggest decision involved playing aggressively in the final minute, and he was rewarded. Connor Mendivil’s 61-yard reception led to a field goal, giving Timpview a 24-17 halftime edge.
But the Thunderbirds soon lost their lead and could not complete their fourth-quarter rally. By the end of the 2013 season, the Whittingham brothers should be approaching 100 combined coaching victories. At the moment, they’re still stuck on 66.