Bingham defensive back Tanner Merrill felt everyone hesitate as the ball fell into his hands.
Was that an interception or an incomplete pass?
But he was off and running, straight into the end zone for a 36-yard return. Merrill scored the first touchdown of the night for Bingham en route to a 31-7 win over Herriman in the Class 6A state semifinal at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday. He grabbed two interceptions on a night when Bingham totaled six.
“Tanner is just a little stud,” Bingham coach John Lambourne said. “He’s as good a defensive back as there is in this state. Some of the things we were doing strategically helps put him in that position, but you can put guys in positions and then they’ve got to execute, and their timing’s got to be good, their instincts have got to be good.”
Merrill broke forward as he saw the ball thrown to Herriman wide receiver Fisher Jackson on his first interception, the pick-6.
Miners defensive back Cole Moody was assigned to Jackson in man coverage, and Moody stayed tight on him, tipping the pass as they both went up for the ball and fell to the ground empty handed. In the chaos, the ball bounced off Jackson’s leg and into Merrill’s hands. It never touched the ground.
“There’s positive and negative to it,” Lambourne said about scoring on defense. “The positive is the seven points and some momentum defensively, but then you’re right back defensively again, so your offense is sitting for a bit. So there are positives and negatives, but the positives far out-weight the negatives. So we’ll take that any time, anytime we can get it.”
Merrill snagged a pass from Herriman quarterback Blake Freeland again at the beginning of the second half. Bingham was up 14-7, and Merrill was expecting the play.
“That first touchdown they scored on my guy ran out, so I figured they’d come back to that play because it worked,” he said.
He felt his man push off, and he went with him. Merrill pulled in the diving catch on the 27-yard line, giving his offense a short field.
“It is awesome,” he said. “You just get up and you look to your team, and everyone’s running to you with their fists up. It’s amazing.”