Due to Covid-19 complications, the Orem football had not played a game since Sept. 11. On that night, the Tigers were handily defeated by Lone Peak on the road.
Orem finally got its chance to recover from that loss on Wednesday night.
The Tigers bounced back in a hard-fought win over Lehi, defeating the Pioneers at home 31-28 to get back on track just in time for the state playoffs get underway.
Lehi gave Orem everything it could handle, scoring a touchdown with 47 seconds to play to cut the Tigers lead to three points. But after a failed onside kick attempt the Pioneers could only watch as Orem ran out the clock melted.
Despite a long layoff, the Tigers held strong to the end.
Tiger head coach Gabriel Sewell recognized the effect that the layoff would have on his players while at the same time expecting them to quickly shake off any rust.
“I think it’s like riding a bike,” Sewell said. “It’s going to take a minute right there to get it. But once you get it, you’re off and running.”
Orem was off and running from its opening drive. The Tigers methodically drove down the field 80 yards for a touchdown, taking nearly eight minutes to do so.
Not to be outdone, Lehi scored in less then three minutes on its first possession. The Pioneers drove 82 yards, capping off an impressive drive with a Takeshi Faupula 2-yard touchdown run.
Neither team could break the tie until Orem senior quarterback Micah Fe’a danced his way into the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown run with a little over a minute left before the half.
With less than 10 seconds left to play, Tiger defensive lineman Zion Saleapaga put Orem in scoring position when he picked off Lehi quarterback Creyton Cooper and barreled his way to the Pioneer 29-yard line. After a Tiger field goal, Orem led its visitors 17-7 at the half.
The field goal that came from Saleapaga’s interception proved to be the difference on the scoreboard in the Tigers win. Of his game-changing play Saleapaga said: “I just followed the guard. The QB just threw it, I picked it off and was on my way. It felt good.”
The 244-pound defensive lineman was happy to be back on the field.
“It felt good to come out here and compete,” he said. “Lehi was a good team to compete with. It was a good game.”
When asked how he and his teammates were able to stay football-ready during their 33-day hiatus, Saleapaga laughed and said: “Coach Gabe ran us a bunch. Even during football class we were running. It was nonstop running and being fit.”
The Tigers fitness proved important as the Pioneers tested them to the very end.
After going up 24-14 on Lehi, Fe’a threw a pick-six to Pioneer defensive back Kadiyon Sweat. The sophomore defensive back put Lehi right back in the game, speeding down the sideline for a 60-yard score.
That was the closest Lehi would come. Orem responded on a 5-yard touchdown run from senior running back Joe Smith and then relied on its defense to hold the Pioneers.
Both teams now await the 5A state playoff brackets to find out who they play next. Those are scheduled to be revealed on Saturday.