Orem • The East football team has felt the uncertainty and fear of having its season in other people’s hands.
The players admit it was difficult to stay steady in a week in which they thought they wouldn’t play again before hearing they would get another shot.
But from here on out, the No. 1-ranked Leopards plan to fight their battles on the field. And as their 49-0 win at Mountain View on Tuesday showed, that’s one thing they know they can handle.
“Words can’t define it: We’re really happy we were out here to see each other,” East senior linebacker Patrick Palau said. “We took it to heart because we had a chance to play another down of football.”
Never has taking the field felt so special to East, which as recently as Thursday thought it would be out of the playoffs for playing ineligible players in its first seven wins.
The Leopards showed their appreciation by drubbing the Bruins in their Class 4A play-in game. Mountain View was outmatched physically.
East already had gone up 21-0 after running only six offensive plays — on a long touchdown catch by John Fakahafua, an 81-yard punt return by Tua Laupata and a 60-yard run by Malaki Solovi.
East was up 28-0 and the game was well in hand before the first quarter was over. It was 42-0 by halftime, and the varsity players were on the sidelines, where they would remain for the rest of the game.
White jerseys flooded the Mountain View backfield as the Leopards’ defense stuffed the run game. The Bruins managed only three first downs in the first half, and the two times they got to the red zone — both resulting from turnovers — they fumbled away the ball. On the second fumble, Christian Folou picked it up and ran it back 93 yards for the score.
The East fans were out in force as well: The school bused over a rowdy crowd of students, and many East faithful came to support the program that has been embroiled in controversy in the past week.
Principal Paul Sagers was among the many Leopards backers who was relieved to see the team back in pads.
“We’re back to a little bit of normalcy, and we can start talking about our next game,” he said. “I never looked back on any of that, I just keep looking forward.”
One person who couldn’t see his team play was coach Brandon Matich, who began serving his three-game suspension from a nearby gym in Orem. He lifted weights, ran and checked his phone for updates from his brother.
It’s painful for him to know there could be two more games he can’t coach or even watch his team compete in. But Matich said he had faith that as long as he could get his team on the field, the players would take care of the rest.
“My kids are well-coached, and I have a lot of assistants who have been head coaches,” he said. “I’ve said all along, I’m willing to do whatever I can to let them play.”
East 49, Mountain View 0
R The Leopards lead 42-0 at halftime, playing the second half with a running clock.
• Isaac Valles throws two touchdown passes, and Malaki Solovi runs for a pair of scores.
• The East defense allows only three first downs in the first half.