Anyone involved with Corner Canyon’s football program naturally may have worried Friday night when Skyridge cut into the Chargers' 17-point lead and threatened to score again as the fourth quarter began.
Not junior quarterback Cole Hagen, watching that sequence from the sideline. “We have a lot of confidence in our defense,” he said. “They've played great all year.”
Hagen's belief was validated when Andrew McDonald knocked away Skyridge's fourth-down pass in the end zone. The Chargers then drove the length of the field and pulled away to a 31-14 victory in the Class 5A championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The back story that Hagen dismissed was how Corner Canyon (12-0) lost the 19-point lead that current BYU quarterback Zach Wilson helped build in a semifinal game last November. Skyridge (11-2) rallied for a 34-33 win behind quarterback Jayden Clemons that day, but such history didn’t faze the Chargers.
“We just knew we needed to answer, and try to be aggressive,” coach Eric Kjar said.
That's where Hagen and his receivers re-entered the picture. After the fourth-down stop, the Chargers marched 98 yards, ending with Hagen's fourth touchdown pass. Sophomore receiver Noah Kjar's second TD catch was the clincher, creating one of those classic father-son moments.
“Couldn't be more proud of him,” Eric Kjar said, his voice catching as he stood on the field afterward.
“It's the best feeling,” Noah Kjar said. “I've seen him work hard at it since I was a little kid.”
To extend Corner Canyon's family theme, Wilson's brother Josh was among this year's defensive stars. The junior linebacker led the Chargers with 10 tackles Friday. McDonald made an interception at the goal line late in the first half, Austin Bell contributed 10 tackles, Maximus Swensen recovered a fumble and Van Fillinger notched a fourth-down sack.
The Draper school's victory prevented a Utah County sweep of the 4A, 5A and 6A titles. Corner Canyon's players wore “PHS” stickers on their helmets in a tribute to the Paradise (Calif.) High School team. In a community devastated by wildfires, Paradise High had to forfeit its spot in the state playoffs, and Corner Canyon wanted to honor those players.
The Chargers' all-around performance was impressive. Eric Kjar credited defensive coordinator Casey Sutera for a scheme that held Skyridge's prolific offense to 300 yards and 14 points. That surprised a lot of observers, after the Falcons averaged 42 points this season, but Kjar claimed to have seen it coming. “Our defense kicked our butts in practice every day,” he said.
Corner Canyon's defense emerged at just the right times Friday. McDonald's interception at the goal line in the last minute preserved Corner Canyon's 10-7 halftime lead, after Swenson's fumble recovery led to Hagen's first TD pass.
John Mitchell's 25-yard reception early in the third quarter pushed Corner Canyon's lead to 17-7, then Skyridge's fourth-down failure set up Hagen's TD pass to Bell.
The Falcons were not finished, though. Ma’a Natoa’s 2-yard run touchdown run made it 24-14 entering the final period. Clemons drove his team into scoring position again, only to be turned away by McDonald and the Chargers' run-stoppers.
• Cole Hagen throws four touchdown passes as Corner Canyon beats Skyridge 31-14 for the Class 5A state championship.
• The Chargers avenge a semifinal loss to Skyridge in 2017, when they lost a 19-point lead.
• Corner Canyon, of Draper, prevents Utah County schools from sweeping the 4A, 5A and 6A title games.