It looked like it was going to be a storybook finish for the Cedar Valley football team Wednesday night in Eagle Mountain against Region 10 power Park City.
With an amazing team effort, the Aviators had overcome quarantine-related roster issues and a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to seize the lead on a dramatic late touchdown and put a tie for the league title in their grasp.
There was just one small problem: There was still 1:42 left in regulation.
That proved to be just enough time for the Miners to respond as the visitors made the plays to get back in the end zone, then stop Cedar Valley’s last drive to secure the 24-21 win.
“That’s a great team we just played,” Aviator head coach Weston Zabriskie said. “The fact that we really hung with them the whole time and if one or two plays bounce our way we win that game, that’s huge. The loss hurts now but we’ll get there. Seeing what I see in their faces, I think this was a huge step for the program because the boys realize we can go play with people.”
Park City got the luckiest bounce of the night on it’s the final drive when a pass play was completed but a hard hit by the Aviator defense knocked the ball free.
Instead of turning into a game-winning turnover, however, the fumble ended up bouncing right to a Miner player who was trailing the play and ended up gaining additional yards.
“That’s one of those things that is going to go our way one of these times,” Zabriskie said. “Maybe we will see these guys again in the playoffs and the ball will bounce our way in that game.”
That play set up the 16-yard scoring run by junior running back Carson Tabaracci that put Park City in front with just 35 seconds left in the game.
The Cedar Valley offense tried to put together one final drive but only were able to get one first down before being forced to attempt a pass-and-lateral play as time expired that was eventually fumbled and recovered by the Miners to end the game.
It appeared the Aviator hopes for victory were almost gone early in the final quarter.
After both teams scored touchdowns on their opening possession — Cedar Valley got a 2-yard TD from senior Vili Mausia — neither side had much offensive success.
An Aviator pass-interference penalty on the final play of the first half gave Park City an untimed down and the Miners were able to get a field goal to take the lead.
The visitors then extended their lead on the third play of the fourth quarter when senior running back Seth Warner scored from 12 yards out.
But the Cedar Valley offense dug deep and made some amazing plays down the stretch, including having junior quarterback Payton Weber convert on a fourth-and-7 with a 43-yard pass on one drive and convert a fourth-and-5 with a 50-yard pass on another. Junior wide receiver Lucas Peck made both huge catches.
“Payton and Lucas are something special,” Zabriskie said. “They have a special connection and it’s fun to watch. There have been a couple of times this year where Lucas has been out, so I feel like he hasn’t really been able to show his full potential yet.”
Those two big plays set up a pair of touchdown passes by Aviator junior quarterback Payton Weber, the first going to sophomore Taygen Hansen for 15 yards to narrow the gap, then the second going to sophomore running back Bryan Vogl to give Cedar Valley the lead with just under two minutes to play.
Although that didn’t prove to be quite enough, it was still a herculean effort by an Aviator squad that was dealing with COVID-19 quarantine-related challenges.
“We were without both starting guards tonight,” Zabriskie said. “Our left guard tonight was a freshman. All last week and this week we weren’t able to practice with our wide receivers. It was great to see the way the kids stepped up and were resilient.”
He said the message to his team after the game was to build off the way it played against a very good opponent.
“Hopefully the guys come back with a short memory,” Zabriskies said. “This loss hurt but we don’t want to come back dwelling on what we didn’t get. We want to come back with the resiliency to keep working and prepare for that next game. That’s something they’ve been really great at all year.”
With the regular season concluded, Cedar Valley (5-4, 4-2) now awaits the release of the 4A state tournament bracket to see where it will be slotted for the playoffs. That is scheduled to be announced on Saturday.