Taylorsville • Garrett Muse looked out at the football field lights shining, the setting sun tinging the Wasatch Mountains red just as Warrior running back To'a Maumau broke through a hole in the defense and streaked across the turf.
"We're always excited for the first game of the season," Muse, the principal at Taylorsville High, said with a smile. "But there's a feeling this year that we can go to state [playoffs], and that hasn't happened for a long time."
The high school football program that represents this west-side burg has endured more than its share of gridiron struggles over the past decade, and Muse has seen the carousel of coaching staffs and watched as talented players have forsaken the school's boundaries for a better shot at winning.
ButÂ second-year coach Rod Wells helped erase the memory of last year's 1-9 season, and brought hope to the crowd of blue-and-yellow clad fans screaming out cries of "Warrior Nation" Friday night, as his team beat Kearns 29-6 to kick off the season.
"We're having fun," Wells said as he watched his entire team do the Electric Slide on the field after the win. "We're getting our work in. We've been in the weight room since January, 6 a.m., and they haven't stopped. They haven't stopped working. They haven't stopped beleiving and now they get to reap the fruits of the labor."
The Warriors attempted just three passes on the night, instead content to bruise Kearns with the hard-running duo of Maumau and Alex Lehauli, who rushed for a score apiece.
After defensive end Lyric Bartley scooped up a loose ball in the first quarter and rumbled down to the Kearns 1, Lehauli punched in the Warriors' first touchdown of the year.
In the second quarter, Maumau scooted for a 4-yard score to double the lead.
Taylorsville got a field from Cody Jacobson and Josh Cunningham had a tackle in the endzone for a safety before Kearns would finally cut the lead. Cougar quarterback Bailey Floyd finally his team on the scoreboard in the third, finding Amone Finau on a 16-yard strike to cut the lead.
With 1:57 left to go in the third quarter, the boisterous crowd came to a hush as Kearns' Ryan Gibson was injured on a tackle. Players from both teams knelt silently as paramedics looked at the senior and eventually took him off the field on a stretcher.
Kearns tried to recapture the momentum, but Taylorsville defensive backs, including Emilio Salvador who had an interceptions in the first quarter, picked off Floyd three times in the fourth.