Imagine facing a fourth-and-2 with the game (and maybe the region title) on the line — and your number gets called.
That’s where Provo senior running back Ryan Harward found himself late in the fourth quarter Friday night at Salem Hills. The Bulldogs led by four points but needed one more big play to secure the win.
“It was literally life-or-death right there,” Harward said. “Fourth down ... you’ve got to get that.”
Harward took the handoff and hammered into the line as both teams gave everything they had to push the line. When Harward was tackled and the referee spotted the football, all the players, coaches and fans could do was watch.
“Looking at it, you wonder if they got it,” Harward said. “Once it was a first down, it was relief and you just get pumped with the adrenaline going. It came down to centimeters for that win. You’ve got to just fight for it.”
Provo head coach Tony McGeary said the coaches in the booth didn’t think it was a good spot but that his team was ready no matter the outcome.
“Up top we knew we had it but when they set it down, it made it more suspenseful,” McGeary said. “My defensive coordinator said, ‘we’ve got you, Coach.’ We had the green light from him.”
The officials stretches the chains out, only to have the call be so close that both teams thought they had made the play.
“I’m sure they saw that they got a first down while on our side we saw it was short,” Salem Hills head coach Harry Schwenke said. “It’s a game of inches. That’s cliche, but that was it.”
The final verdict, however, was that Harward’s run had gotten the very tip of the football just far enough for the first down, allowing the Bulldogs to run out the clock and secure the 30-26 win over the Skyhawks.
“This is so huge,” Harward said. “The seniors have come together as brothers and shown so much unity. This game for us was a big for us because it was the two top teams in the region.”
McGeary said he felt confident that his offense could get the job done, which is why he chose to go for it.
“We should’ve gotten it when we ran it on third down,” McGeary said. “We knew we could get it. It paid off.”
The victory kept Provo unbeaten in Region 8 action and alone atop the standings.
“We’ve got to finish and we can’t overlook anyone,” McGeary said. “But we just played one of the toughest teams in the region. I can testify to that. They are a very good team. We are in the driver’s seat. These guys set a goal at the beginning of the year to win region. We’ve got two more games to go but we are closer to it.”
Salem Hills seized the early momentum, jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs responded with 16 straight points, only to see the Skyhawks come back with a field goal and a touchdown to go up 20-16.
“It was an awesome game to be a part of,” Schwenke said. “Our boys are resilient. They play all the way to the end.”
Provo retook the lead in the third quarter on a 4-yard sweep by Harward, who later extended the Bulldog advantage by bursting through the line for a 75-yard touchdown run.
Salem Hills cut into the lead with a 1-yard plunge by senior running back Sam Hughes, but the onside kid failed.
That set the stage for the final fourth-down play that ended up keeping the Skyhawks from getting a shot at victory.
“We didn’t have a lack of effort,” Schwenke said. “We lost focus at times but that’s a good ball club, so hat’s off to them. We have to correct some things and keep our guys focused. Our goals are still ahead of us.”
Provo (6-2, 4-0) next hosts Maple Mountain on Oct. 10, while Salem Hills (7-1, 3-1) plays at Wasatch the same evening.
Both games are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.