Though Provo was the No. 18 seed and carried a 3-6 record into its state prep football game with No. 15 ranked Mountain Ridge, it isn’t too hard to argue that Provo is better than its record and seed.
Provo was very competitive in games it had with No. 4 seed Salem Hills and No. 5 seed Wasatch with chances to win these games in the fourth quarter.
And perhaps being battle tested in highly competitive Region 8 provided dividends for Provo as the Bulldogs whipped Mountain Ridge, 34-14, Friday afternoon in Herriman in the first round of the 5A playoffs.
“We’re just coaching our butts off, just trying to teach these kids how to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” Provo head coach Kirk Chambers said. “They’re learning. This was a young team to start the year and they’ve gained their experience, they’ve gained a little momentum and are buying in. We’re just super-thrilled about it.”
Provo’s defense has led the way this season and they gave a top performance to help the Bulldogs advance to the second round of the playoffs. Chambers was quick to give defensive coordinator Abe Poduska credit.
“He’s (Poduska) is the best defensive coordinator that I’ve ever worked with. He’s incredible,” Chambers said, who admitted he was a bit nervous (at first) about the game plan to stop the Sentinel offensive attack.
“At the beginning of the week, I was a little worried because it was a little complex,” Chambers said. “But the boys picked it up, executed what we needed them to do, and it just meshed really well tonight. Abe and his defensive staff did a great job and Coach Poduska is one of the best coaches in the business as far as doing it for the right reasons and getting his unit ready.”
In the last two weeks Provo’s offense has also come to life as well, putting up 42 points against Northridge in the regular season finale and 34 points against the Sentinels Friday.
Junior quarterback Jace Welsch has been a big part of that as he ran for one touchdown and threw for two others to pace the Bulldog attack.
Welsch opened up the scoring with a 50-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter and then followed that up with a 5-yard scoring connection to Ryder Macgillivray. Then back-up quarterback Kyson Condie used his legs early in the second stanza on a 33-yard sprint to paydirt to give Provo a commanding 21-0 lead.
Mountain Ridge finally got on the board midway through the second quarter via a 4-yard run by Ayden Heim but Provo countered just before half time as Talo Takitaki hauled in a 30-yard scoring pass from Welsch. Brandon Grover connected on his fourth extra point, and the Bulldogs went into the locker room with a 28-7 lead.
For Chambers, Provo’s offensive production starts with quality line play.
“I think we are playing better up front,” Chambers said. “Our offensive line has been young until now, we’re finally getting to the point where we’re mature, we’re to the point where we are making adjustments and finishing plays and that sort of thing.”
It was still the defense that put the final punctuation on the victory and that came in the fourth quarter when Mountain Ridge appeared they might make a game of it trailing 28-14 and with possession of the ball in Bulldog territory.
But that’s when Ty Larsen played the tip drill to perfection to not only secure the interception, but then zig-zag across the field breaking several tackles to take it to the house.
The pick-six was a backbreaker and the Sentinels never seriously threatened after that.
“That was such a big play by Ty,” Chambers said. “The fact that he just makes the pick there and gets our defense off the field was big, but then and he runs it back, for who knows, 80 yards. Phenomenal job by Ty and he’s done that for us all season. He’s really stepped up. He’s just a junior coming into his own, Man, I’m super excited to see what he’s going to do.”
With the win, Provo (4-6) advances to take on No. 2 seeded Orem (4-2), the defending 5A state champions, next Friday at Orem. The game time is still to be determined.