Special teams proved to be extra special for the Salem Hills Skyhawks in their 37-0 victory over the Wasatch Wasps to reach the 5A football semifinals for the first time in school history.
Leading 9-0 with under a minute to go in the first half, Salem Hills forced a Wasatch punt. A decision that junior Reed Johnson made the Wasps pay dearly for.
“I muffed the punt earlier, so I had to make up for it,” Johnson said about the play.
The 5-foot-10 shifty return man made a couple of Wasatch defenders miss, bounced the return to the outside and down the Salem Hills sideline directing blockers on his way to the end zone to boost the Skyhawk lead heading into the half.
“We tell our special teams just to do their job,” Salem Hills head coach Henry Schwenke said. “We love that they make plays, but it really comes down to just doing their job. We’ve got some pretty special guys returning the ball, so that helps too.”
The Skyhawk special teams made another big play on the opening kickoff of the second half knocking the ball loose on the return and recovering it deep in Wasatch territory.
A few plays later, Jordan Ware took a pitch around the right-end, broke a couple of tackles and waltzed into the end zone to give Salem Hills a 23-0 lead.
While special teams helped the Salem Hills offense get on the board, the Skyhawk defense needed almost no help at all as it held the Wasatch offense averaging nearly 30 points per game scoreless.
“Our defense was lights out,” Schwenke said. “That’s pretty much what set the tone. Stopping the run was the difference in the game. (Wasatch) likes to ground and pound. Once you take them out of their game it makes it a little bit more difficult. Hats off to our defense 100%.”
The victory is a milestone for the program. After four straight years of first-round playoff exits, the Skyhawks have managed to put enough pieces together to earn a school record 11 wins this season, but they’re not satisfied yet.
“We have a few things to clean up, but it’s the same thing we’ve been talking about all season-focus on one game at a time,” Schwenke said. “Our motto is 1-0. We don’t just say it, we preach it and live it.”
Salem Hills will look to continue its best season in program history as it takes on Orem/Olympus in the 5A football semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 11 a.m. on Thursday.