Brighton runs the ball well, sticking it in the gut of junior tailback Osa Masina an average of 16 times a game.
But when the Bengals began to see eight defenders stacked at the line of scrimmage trying to slow Masina and the run game, Brighton needed to throw the ball.
And Isaiah Kaufusi was more than ready to catch it.
“Being able to throw the ball has helped us this season,” said Kaufusi, a 6-foor-2 senior receiver. “It’s huge. It’s helped us get to where we are.”
The emergence of the passing game and its reliance on the uber-athletic Kaufusi are a big reason why the Bengals reached Friday’s Class 5A state championship game against Bingham.
Kaufusi has 29 receptions — nearly twice the total of his closest teammate — averages more than 18 yards per catch and all six of his receiving touchdowns have come over the past eight games.
The Bengals have a speedster in Kaufusi — he plays basketball and runs track — who has football scholarship offers from Utah, BYU, Utah State and Hawaii. His coach describes him as a passionate leader with endless energy.
“He brings passion every day,” Brighton coach Ryan Bullett said. “He has worked his tail off. He was born to play football. It’s contagious what he does, and the kids definitely follow him.”
Masina is one of the top running backs in the state, but it was Kaufusi to whom the Bengals turned two weeks ago when their season was on the line in the state quarterfinals against Herriman.
“He’s a leaper, he can run by you and get it over your head, or he can stop on a dime,” Bullett said. “When we were down to fourth down against Herriman and needed a big play, there’s no doubt where we were going to go.”
The Bengals’ pass game began to develop after quarterback Drew Jensen, who was sharing reps with Robbie Hutchins, went down with injury. The receivers started staying after practice to work with Hutchins, and the results soon followed.
“When Robbie had to step up, I think that’s when our passing game started to excel,” Kaufusi said. “Every day after practice we would get together and throw for 15 to 20 minutes. I think that has been the main difference — getting a feel for our quarterback and where he wants things. That’s been the biggest change.”
Brighton will need an air attack if it finds itself chasing the score against the top-ranked and unbeaten Miners at Rice-Eccles Stadium. In their first meeting last month, Brighton led in the first quarter but spent the second half playing from behind.
In that game — a 38-27 Bingham victory — Kaufusi, also an outside linebacker, had two receiving touchdowns and a fumble return for a score. Kaufusi said the experience of having already played the top team in 5A only will help in the rematch.
“I think we were timid the first time we played them,” Kaufusi said. “They finally saw what they were really about and what they were like. We know we can play with them, and I think this game will be a lot better than the first one.”
And if that happens, Brighton would have its first state title in more than 30 years.
“It would be unbelievable,” Kaufusi said. “It hasn’t happened since 1982, and it’s what we’ve talked about forever, since we were little kids. It’s what we play for. I’m getting chills just talking about it. I want this so bad.”
Isaiah Kaufusi file
• Brighton senior Isaiah Kaufusi leads the team with 29 receptions for more than 500 yards and six touchdowns — half of quarterback Robbie Hutchins’ total.
• Kaufusi, who also plays basketball and runs track, has football scholarship offers from Utah, BYU, Utah State and Hawaii.
• Kaufusi’s uncle Steve is a coach at BYU and his cousin Bronson plays football and basketball for the Cougars.
O Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium
11 a.m. • Timpview vs. East
2:30 p.m. • Brighton vs. Bingham
6:30 p.m. • Desert Hills vs. Pine View