Kragthorpe: East's defense rivals offense's scoring in 4A semifinals (with video)
This is how playoff football works, when a team advances with two improbable road wins and what comes next seems more like punishment than reward.
The Olympus Titans arrived at Rice-Eccles Stadium to discover East, the team from just down 13th East with a history of dominating opponents this season. What unfolded Thursday afternoon hardly was surprising in the end, as the Leopards took a 47-21 victory in the Class 4A semifinals.
The unexpected twist? Olympus trailed by only seven points late in the third quarter. That's when the Titans stopped overachieving and the Leopards asserted themselves.
If facing East already was asking a lot of Olympus, this part was really unfair: The Leopards' defense and special teams scored almost as many points as East's prolific offense. That's how these guys have averaged 51 points. They're relentless and resourceful.
The Leopards were not as overwhelming as usual Thursday, yet they won convincingly. Ultimately, the biggest tribute to East is how Olympus' defense played so well for so long, and then the scoreboard showed 47 points for the Leopards and the statistics showed 188 yards rushing for Ula Tolutau.
Standard stuff, in other words. Mix in interception returns for touchdowns by Tualagi Laupata and Lorenzo Manu and a fumble recovery in the end zone by Avery Hopkins, and you have a game that got away from Olympus, as 12 other East opponents have experienced.
The latest episode increased Olympus coach Aaron Whitehead's admiration of East and his pride in his own players.
"All year long, they've refused to back down to anybody, and we didn't back down to East," Whitehead said. "Everybody talked about how big they were and how bad they were, and they are big and they are bad bad, in a good way but we didn't step down from the challenge."
After winning dramatically at Springville with a creative final play and intercepting four passes from Logan's backup quarterback to claim another road win, the Titans had to play at another level Thursday, and they couldn't do it. Olympus always will wonder what would have happened if not for those critical mistakes that East turned into points. Then again, the Leopards were not especially sharp themselves.
East lost two fumbles, missed a field goal and failed on a fake-punt run, partly explaining how Olympus stayed close for a long time. Yet in its own way, this game became another endorsement of East as one of Utah's all-time best teams. Olympus battled for 48 minutes and East had some lapses and the Leopards still won by four touchdowns.
The Leopards may not be at the level of Bingham's 2010 team, but they're close. And they're not done yet. Next Friday comes "the last chapter in the book," by Tolutau's description, one more chance for the Leopards to determine how they'll be remembered.
Olympus running back Coleman Meier knows where his team fits into that story, and he's proud of it.
"It was an honor to play someone like East," he said. "To stick with 'em for the first half is just awesome."
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