Puka Nacua sets new state TD reception record as Orem wins second consecutive 4A title in overwhelming fashion

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brinton Paulson of Orem pulls in a touchdown over Dixie's Harrison Beazer as they compete in the 4A high school championship game at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.

Once Orem High School senior wide receiver Puka Nacua caught his second touchdown, a brief moment of sadness overcame him. He realized it was the last time he would step into the end zone as a high school football player.

But that moment was quickly usurped by a flood of adrenaline as the reality of the situation hit him: That last touchdown put him alone in the Utah record books for touchdown receptions in a season.

“A goal I came in my freshman year [wanting] was to be all over the record book and I felt accomplished a little bit of that this year,” Nacua said.

Nacua, a USC commit, also had lots of help. The Tigers won their their second consecutive state 4A championship, routing the overmatched Dixie Flyers 60-13 Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Nacua caught his record-breaking 26th TD of the season midway through the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Cooper Legas threw to him on second down and he leapt to catch the 55-yard pass. Once he came down, he ran the few extra yards into the end zone.

Nacua finished the game with 182 yards on nine catches.

Paxton Henrie of Milford initially broke the state record for receiving touchdowns last week in the 1A championship game. Before last week, the record was 24, held by Simi Fehoko on Brighton in 2014.

Nacua tied the state record with his 25th touchdown in the first quarter of Friday’s win. After Tigers junior running back Noah Sewell committed two hurdling penalties to put them at first-and-44, Legas threw to Nacua and earned the first down anyway. Legas passed to Nacua again later in the drive for a 12-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead.

Legas said Nacua could have achieved the state record last season, but he was unaware of how many touchdowns it would take to get Nacua there and wasn’t throwing to him. But because this season was the last chance for Nacua to break it, it was a focus this season.

“We just went for it and he got it because he’s the best receiver in the country,” said Legas, who went 24-of-31 for 333 yards and three touchdowns.

Orem coach Jeremy Hill said the team was aware Nacua needed only two touchdowns to break the record, but tried to keep itself in the flow of the game. In the end, however, he was proud of Nacua for the feat.

“There’s not a better receiver to ever come through here,” Hill said. “It just shows the kid is so smart, athletic and just — he loves this, which makes it special for all of us to be around him.”

The Tigers broke the game open early, taking a 20-0 lead with 4:41 left in the first half. After Dixie answered with a touchdown, Orem scored 34 unanswered points.

The Tigers were thrilled they won back-to-back 4A championships. Moments after the game, the coaching staff wore T-shirts that displayed both championship years, along with the words “Back 2 Back’ on the front. An Orem assistant coach said the shirts were made before Friday’s game.

“One was fun, twice is nice,” Hill said.