Announcer Jess Gomez screamed a gravelly question to the fans waiting for football to start at Herriman High.
“Are you ready for football?!”
The fans cheered in agreement at a volume commensurate with any other well-attended high school football game in Utah, particularly one that opens a season.
The decibel level of Gomez’s call and the fans’ answer made it easy to assume their exclaims went unobstructed. But everyone involved in the exchange was wearing face masks, which was one of the many protocols observed Thursday during the first regular season football game in the United States.
Davis beat Herriman 24-20 after giving up the first touchdown, but the result was hardly the story. After Weber and Bingham had to cancel their first game of the season when three Miners players tested positive for COVID-19, plenty of intrigue surrounded Thursday’s game to see if prep football could go on without too many problems with the coronavirus.
Gomez, who also works for Intermountain Healthcare, reminded the crowed several times to keep their masks on at all times. He also asked spectators to stay in their assigned section in the stands, which were marked A-L.
Small signs reminding people about mask wearing and social distancing stood in the grass near the concession stand and a large, handmade one was placed on the northeast side of the stadium visible to anyone walking up the steps to their assigned section.
The scene was indicative of what one spectator said about the relationship between Utahns and authority.
“Utahns in general, we’re always pretty good at following rules,” Thane Slagowski said.
While the fans in the stands wore masks throughout the game, the majority of them were in close proximity to each other.
Davis senior quarterback Chance Trujillo said with the smaller crowed and muted cheers, the team had to muster its own energy throughout the game. Darts coach Mitch Arquette said his players found that energy with big plays. But the atmosphere was still strange.
“It’s crickets out here,” Arquette said. “You can hear yourself think.”
The Mustangs student section yelled loudest throughout the game, jumping up and down and chanting along with the school’s cheerleaders. Herriman junior Sophie Clawson said it was difficult showing rampant enthusiasm through a face mask, but had no qualms about why she had to wear one and thinks the slight discomfort is worth it.
“I’ve yelled and my mask has almost come off, so I’ve held my mask onto my face,” Clawson said. “And jumping up and down with a mask, it moves a little bit, so you might have to hold your mask, which is fine. It’s all just taking precautions to make sure everyone’s safe but still being here for our team and supporting.”
Davis traveled its cheerleaders. And while both cheerleading teams wore masks before the game, they danced and yelled without them for all four quarters.
Absent Thursday night was the host school’s marching band, a staple at most every high school football game.
Other scenes felt like any other football game. Although both teams were allowed to dress only 50 players each, the ones on the sidelines stood close to one another as the action unfolded up and down the sideline. When players scored touchdowns, their teammates swarmed around them. There was even a brief skirmish in the fourth quarter that prompted multiple penalty flags.
One peculiar sight was on the Darts sideline. A long row of brown metal folding chairs, which the team brought with it, sat empty along the length of the field. Presumably they were to be used by bench players in order to socially distance on the sideline. But they weren’t used all game.
Arquette said the chairs were the idea of one of his assistants.
“I turned to him about halfway through the third quarter and I said, ‘Nobody’s sitting on these chairs. We wasted a lot of time and energy,’ " Arquette said with a smile. “He’s like, ‘Just next time I say something like that, just tell me to shut up.’”
Fans were asked to leave the stadium immediately and not linger when the game concluded.
Fifty more high school football games are scheduled Friday across Utah. The matchup between Herriman and Davis could be used as a litmus test for not only other schools in the state, but the entire country as many states await to start their own seasons.