For the past three games, Maple Mountain has had to show some resilience to overcome its opponents.
Four weeks ago Maple Mountain saw its 28-7 lead against Salem Hills vanish, but the Golden Eagles managed to win in overtime 35-28 to claim a share of the Region 8 title.
Against Springville in the second round of the playoffs, Maple Mountain watched its 27-7 lead cut to 27-21 in the fourth quarter before its defense stepped up to preserve the victory.
And in Friday’s 5A quarterfinal matchup versus the No. 14-seeded Alta Hawks in Spanish Fork, the No. 6-seeded Maple Mountain Golden Eagles saw their 26-0 lead evaporate as Alta scored 30 unanswered points.
But Maple Mountain found a way to rally to score 14 fourth-quarter points to beat the Hawks, 40-30, and advance to the 5A semifinals to face Orem, a 49-28 winner against Skyline.
The Golden Eagles may have to go to battle against the Tigers without their starting quarterback Tyler Nelson who injured his knee in the second quarter against the Hawks.
But before he left the game, the senior signal-caller shined, scoring on two touchdown runs of 29 and 36 yards while also connecting with Kyson Hall on a 29-yard scoring pass. This scoring, along with a 1-yard plunge by Thomas Weight, gave Maple Mountain a commanding 26-0 lead.
But that’s when things started to turn against the Golden Eagles.
Alta managed to score a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half as Jensen Campbell hauled in a pass from Ethan Jackson to trim Maple Mountain’s lead to 26-7.
Throughout the game, the wind blew hard from south to north, which proved to be a huge factor in the contest. The Hawks took advantage in the third quarter and scored 23 more points to surge ahead, 30-26.
Samuel Black ran one Hawk TD in from 18 yards out which was followed by a safety when a mishandled shotgun snap ended in the end zone. Fortunately for the Golden Eagles, they recovered to just give up two points instead of a possible seven.
Maple Mountain actually recovered the kickoff at midfield as Alta misplayed the high kickoff that fluttered in the wind. But the Golden Eagles couldn’t take advantage and Alta tacked on two more touchdowns, the last one coming on the final play of the quarter on a nine-yard Black pass from Jackson.
The wind played a factor in game strategy because the Alta coaches chose to use a timeout to force Maple Mountain to punt into the wind. But the punt was blocked and the Hawks took over on the 9-yard line to set up the Hawk’s last score.
But as the teams swapped directions for the final stanza, Maple Mountain was able to finally get its offense on track. After two successive offside penalties by the Hawks, Quinlin Jackson scampered 53 yards to put Maple Mountain in front 33-30 after the Seth Kroemenhoek extra point.
Maple Mountain’s defense stood tall and forced Alta to turn the ball over on downs twice. Midway through the quarter, Andrew Jensen secured a sack of Jackson to end that drive.
With just over two minutes remaining Trevin Hubbard corralled Jackson to effectively end the game. With 29 seconds left in the game, Weight put the icing on the cake with a two-yard score.
The ability of his team to persevere through some hard challenges didn‘t go unnoticed by Maple Mountain head coach Brad Burtenshaw.
“What a wild finish to a wild game,” Burtenshaw said. “That’s a really, really good team (Alta), and it took everything we had as far as schemes, as far as kids making plays, to come out with a victory. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Maple Mountain will now take on No. 2 seed Orem next week, but the exact time and date is a bit in flux as COVID-19 continues to be a factor.
The games are scheduled to be played at Dixie State University in Saint George on Friday, Nov. 13, but the Utah High School Activities Association may have to move the games because Washington County has seen a huge uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent days.