In Friday night’s key Region 8 matchup, Springville would have been happy just to line up and run the ball right into the teeth of the Salem Hills defense.
The Skyhawks would have none of that.
Salem Hills (3-0 Region 8, 7-0 overall) stayed unbeaten in 2019 with a 35-7 win at Springville, a victory as complete as it was methodical. Skyhawks quarterback Jarrett Elmer passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more, running a clean offense that finished with 348 total yards.
But the real difference in the game was the Salem Hills’ 4-2-5 defense, led by the dominating play of two-way linemen John Nelson and Nate Tarter.
Springville finished with 89 yards rushing, but only 30 through three and a half quarters. In addition, Nelson and Tarter lived in the Red Devil backfield and harassed quarterback Payton Murphy all night, combining for five sacks.
“It’s an amazing defense,” Tarter said. “I love it. We know our D-line is good enough to get pressure. We killed it.”
“That’s where it all starts and ends,” Salem Hills coach Harry Schwenke said. “We pride ourselves with the way we play up front on both sides, offense and defense. We stopped what Springville loves to do, and that’s run the ball. I was proud of the guys for just staying home and doing their assignments all night.”
Salem Hills scored on its first drive of the game, mainly on the strength of a 41-yard burst up the middle by Jordan Ware. Elmer snuck in from 1-yard out for a 7-0 lead for the visitors with 9:04 to play in the first quarter.
Springville tied the game late in the second period, snuffing out a Salem Hills fake punt to take over at the Skyhawks 44-yard line. A personal foul on Salem Hills kept the drive alive and on fourth down, Payton Murphy connected with Austin Mortensen on a 6-yard scoring pass for a 7-7 score.
Salem Hills needed just two minutes to retake the lead. Reed Johnson took the ensuing kickoff to midfield and five plays later Elmer found Jake Meuter over the middle. Meuter was hit by a pair of Springville defenders but kept his feet and fought into the end zone to complete an 18-yard scoring play, giving the Skyhawks a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Salem Hills locked up Springville’s offense in the second half, allowing just one first down through the middle of the fourth quarter. Elmer started finding tight end Deven Johnson (6 catches, 83 yards) and the Skyhawks scored on its first three possessions of the second half. The first two were Elmer to Johnson connections of 11 and 26 yards, respectively, and Elmer capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard plunge for a 28-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
Ware added 110 yards on just 10 carries for Salem Hills. Mortensen, Springville’s dangerous wide receiver, caught just three passes all night and none in the second half.
“The kids are believing now,” Schwenke said. “We’ve always had talent in Salem but the difference is now we’ve got a bunch of guys that believe they belong at Rice-Eccles Stadium. We take it one game at a time and we don’t ever get outside ourselves. We approach it as a team.”
Tarter gave credit to the team’s four captains — seniors Nelson, Issac Barnum and Derek Rolfe and Elmer, a junior — for the program’s belief and success.
“Honestly, I feel like we have great leadership with our captains,” Tarter said. “We share a companionship and we’re all really close, a family bond. Without a doubt in my mind, we’re a state championship team.”
Salem Hills hosts Provo next week, while Springville (2-2, 5-2) will entertain Spanish Fork.