Ahead 28-7 in the fourth quarter, visiting Maple Mountain seemingly was in total control of its Region 8 gridiron showdown with Salem Hills Wednesday night.
But that’s when Salem Hills made things really, really interesting scoring 21 unanswered points to send the game into overtime.
Thanks to two interceptions and a 7-yard scoing run by quarterback Tyler Nelson, however, the Golden Eagles prevailed, 35-28, in double overtime.
After Nelson’s run, Bryson Bliss stepped in front of a Skyhawk receiver to make a diving interception, ending the game and delivering a piece of the Region 8 title to the Golden Eagles. Maple Mountain ended up tied with Wasatch (who defeated Springville, 22-19) as both teams finished 4-1 in league play.
On the interception, Bliss said that it was a play that Salem Hills had run successfully for much of the night.
“They caught us on that (play) a couple of times in a row, so I knew I had to watch that play,” Bliss said. “I’m not sure what the exact route was, but I knew I had to get underneath it.”
Salem Hills seemed to have all the momentum as the game headed into the first overtime. The Skyhawks started on offense but on the first play Brian Bess secured an interception which then put all momentum back in the favor of the Golden Eagles.
But it was short lived as Maple Mountain fumbled on the next possession with Skyhawk defender Grant Barney pouncing on the pigskin.
In the second overtime session, Maple Mountain started on offense first and Nelson found Bliss for a 10-yard gain down to the 15 yard-line. A late hit on Salem Hills moved the ball down to the 7-yard line and Nelson carried it in from there. Seth Kroemenhoek connected on the extra point to put the Golden Eagles up, 35-28.
Though it seemed Salem Hills was in control at the end of the game and after the Golden Eagle turnover in overtime, Nelson said it was important to keep himself and his team focused.
“Oh man, it’s keeping everyone in the game,” Nelson said. “We were feeling a little bit down. We had to keep everyone up and everyone in the game. The defense came up so clutch in the end with two interceptions. It feels so good.”
It seemed very unlikely that this game would get this close as Maple Mountain had the 21-point lead in the final stanza. But both Salem Hills’ offense and defense came alive.
Elmer connected with Willie Leota with 5:59 left in the game to cut Maple Mountain’s lead to 28-14. Then the senior Skyhawk signal caller found Austin Hallows on scoring plays of four and nine yards respectively, the first time with 2:29 left and then with just 29 seconds remaining. Bruce Butler was true on the critical game-tying extra point.
But what was also essential for Salem Hills to make its comeback was the stellar play of the defense, which did its job creating the 3-and-outs to give the Skyhawk offense chances to score.
Maple Mountain posted the first three scores of the game, two in the first half as Nelson found Johnny Kearl for a 5-yard score while Thomas Weight scampered 80 yards to paydirt thanks to a devastating block by lineman Colton Butterfield.
Maple Mountain tacked on another touchdown midway through the third quarter when Nelson and Bess hooked up for a 9-yard scoring pass and catch.
There was a small hint of trouble later in the third quarter, however, when Leota intercepted Nelson and returned the ball 43 yards down to the 2-yard line. Elmer then took it in on the next play and Maple Mountain’s lead was cut to 21-7.
But Maple Mountain reasserted itself, so it seemed, when Cole McCallister got behind the Skyhawk defense for a 31-yard touchdown reception from Nelson with 8:38 left in the contest.
Salem Hills then put together its huge comeback and sent the game to overtime.
As things started to fall apart for Maple Mountain, Golden Eagle head coach Brad Burtenshaw was still confident that his team could come away with the victory.
“Our kids have faced some adversity in previous games, and they just kept their composure,” Burtenshaw said. “Hats off to Salem. That was a heckuva job by them but I’m really proud of our kids. We made a play when we had to, and were one play better.”
In a positive note of sportsmanship, host Salem Hills spray painted the 15-yard line marker gold to honor Maple Mountain’s Bryson McQuivey, who is battling cancer. Linebacker Derek Blanthorn wore McQuivey’s jersey and played well on the defensive side of the ball for the Golden Eagles.