One of the things that makes American Fork senior running back Jaxon Gregory such a key part of the Caveman offense is his work ethic.
“Jaxon is an extremely hard worker,” American Fork head coach Aaron Behm said Friday night. “Every offseason we have an offseason competition and we’ve kept track of everyone for the last 10 years. He’s No. 1 on that list that is up in our weight room.”
It’s been a long season and the No. 7-seed Cavemen were facing a big, physical opponent in Friday’s 6A quarterfinals at No. 2-seed Herriman — but when the game was on the line and American Fork needed some big plays, Gregory was ready.
“It’s starting to pay off, especially towards the end of games,” Gregory said. “Teams start to get tired and I keep my momentum going. It shows.”
Gregory carried the ball six times for 53 yards including a 13-yard touchdown run during a key fourth-quarter drive that helped the Cavemen secure the 28-14 victory and return to the 6A semifinals.
“That was definitely a game-changer,” Gregory said. “If we hadn’t have gotten that touchdown, they would’ve had the momentum and it could’ve been a different result. It was amazing, knowing it was pretty much over. We just had to keep focused and we knew we would get that W.”
While Gregory got into the end zone three times to lead the way for the American Fork offense, the Caveman defense was tremendous as it proved to be up to the challenge of facing the physical pounding of the Mustangs.
“Our defense come out and played lights out,” Behm said. “They gave up one big play in the first half and then we gave them great field position off a turnover on the other score but I’m so proud of them. You can see how much they’ve grown in the last eight weeks. That’s just exciting to see, guys who battle and want to get better every week.”
Part of the success of the American Fork defense was that it got some time to rest between drives, thanks in large part to the running of Gregory.
“They want to try to keep the opponent’s offense off the field and keep their defense on it,” Gregory said. “Our defense shut them down, which was good.”
The Cavemen took the lead on a 1-yard fourth-down plunge by Gregory to cap a 16-play, 87-yard drive, then extended the advantage with a double-pass trick play that went from senior running back Peyton Wilson to senior wide receiver Devin Downing for a 57-yard score.
Herriman answered with a big run and a razzle-dazzle play of their own that appeared to be stuffed, only to have a lateral bounce right to Mustang quarterback Jaxon James, who scored from seven yards out.
American Fork then answered with another big catch by Downing, setting up a second touchdown by Gregory.
The scored stayed at 21-7 until early in the fourth quarter when Herriman returned an interception to the 1-yard line and punched it in, giving the home team a huge shot of momentum.
But led by Gregory, the Cavemen had another big response to maintain the lead.
“They had all the momentum in the world,” Behm said. “To come back and answer like that while eating five or six minutes off the clock, that was huge.”
American Fork savored the victory even more because the Mustangs defeated the Cavemen, 34-21, back in September.
“It feels great to come back and play them again,” Gregory said. “We couldn’t ask anything more than to come back and play this team and then get a win.”
American Fork now moves on to play East in the 6A semifinals.
“To get there two years in a row and see how the program has grown, it’s fun,” Behm said.
But the Cavemen are confident with how they are playing right.
“We’re starting to finally click with one another,” Gregory said. “When we do that, we can beat anyone.”
American Fork will face the Leopards at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 2:30 p.m. on Friday with a spot in the 6A finals on the line.