4A football: East's quest for perfection ends in title game
It was hard to find a dry pair of eyes. The East Leopards, previously 13-0, a team that had shattered offensive records and steam-rolled nearly every opponent in its banner 2013 season, were faced with the sudden task of dealing with their only loss.
The Leopards took a knee along the sideline at Rice-Eccles Stadium and stared across the field at a jubilant Timpview team that just had won the Class 4A state championship 33-28.
"We walk off this field with our heads held high," East coach Brandon Matich told his team.
The lone loss of a memorable campaign stung. Preston Curtis, who posted a game-high 140 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 11 carries, emotionally embraced teammates Korey Rush and David Huntsman and thanked them.
Matich, who declined comment afterward, told his team to be sure to thank each other, the parents and fans that supported them throughout their 13-1 season.
The prolific East offense, which came into the title game averaging more than 51 points per game, rushed for 381 yards. But it was held to 28 points after jumping out to a quick 13-0 lead over the Thunderbirds.
The Leopards responded when Timpview took its first lead, 27-25, in the third quarter. East marched down the field on a drive fueled by star running back Ula Toluta'u, who finished his senior season with 2,465 yards rushing 96 shy of the single-season rushing record but the Thunderbird defense limited East to a 19-yard field goal by Isaac Anthony to give East a 28-27 lead.
Once Timpview quarterback Britain Covey led the Thunderbirds to another touchdown to take a 33-28 lead, the Leopards were tasked with keeping their season alive with one last drive. It ended when East quarterback Isaac Valles was sacked by Gabe Reid on a fourth-and-6 play. When the clock read zeroes, several East players froze, despondent that their dream season suddenly had come to an end.
Before Matich and the Leopards broke their final huddle of the season, the coach delivered this message to his team: "Stay strong."