What does it mean when an offense only makes three plays totaling 11 yards but sees its team put up three touchdowns?
It means the team’s defense and special teams are making huge plays.
That’s how things played out for Lone Peak Thursday night in its titanic 6A semifinal showdown against Region 4-foe Skyridge.
The Knights relied on its defense and special teams to carry the day as Lone Peak scored three touchdowns in the second half and held off the Falcons to get the 28-24 win.
“Every practice we go over special teams,” Knight senior defensive lineman John Henry Daley said. “It is the little things that count, all 10 guys getting their blocks for the returner. There are three phases of the game. A lot of people only focus on offense and defense but we know special teams can flip the momentum and give us the upper hand.”
Lone Peak definitely needed its special teams to make some big plays and twice when the Knights were down, that unit was key in flipping the script.
The first instance came early in the second half with Skyridge leading 17-7 and having forced a Lone Peak punt to start the third quarter.
After the Knight defense kept the Falcons from moving the ball, Daley broke free around the left side of the line and got a big piece of the Skyridge punt. It was caught and returned to the Falcon 10-yard line.
“We came out, got a stop, blocked a punt and that’s what shifted the momentum for us,” Lone Peak acting head coach Ryan Denney said. “We changed some things up this week from a punt-block perspective. I tease him because his brother (Michael Daley) blocked four punts his senior year to help us win the state championship. John Henry had only blocked one before now, so I challenged him to do better. It was a great individual effort.”
The Knight offense needed just two runs (a 4-yarder and a 6-yard TD run) by junior linebacker/running back Luke Durfey to get in the end zone and cut into Skyridge’s lead.
Lone Peak would go in front later in the quarter, thanks to a fumble recovery and return that put the ball at the Falcon 1-yard line. Durfey plowed in for the score to put the Knights up, 21-17.
“Those touchdowns were big thanks to our defense for setting us up inside the 10-yard line,” Durfey said. “We just ran that ball in. We knew we could get a couple of yards every play and scored those touchdowns.”
Aided by a costly Lone Peak penalty, Skyridge came roaring back with a big TD drive in the fourth quarter. Falcon quarterback McCae Hillstead hit wide receiver James Palmer for a 35-yard TD to put Skyridge back on top.
But it would be a short-lived lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Knight returner Keo Hansen found a hole and raced 94 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
“We had a left return set but John Henry Daley wanted to go middle,” Denney said. “He felt the middle was opening up and he convinced me to make a change. It was the first one we had really been able to return all night. They had the lead and the game was in their favor, then we flipped it that quick.”
The Lone Peak defense added a crucial interception by Kade Liljenquist to stop the final Falcon drive, then Durfey was able to get a key first down to run out the clock.
The second half was a different story after the first half belonged mostly to Skyridge.
The Falcons took control in the second quarter, surging in front with 10 points in the 12-minute frame.
Skyridge running back Jeter Fenton capped a long drive with a powerful three-yard run to cross the goal line, then the Falcons used a 29-yard pass as Hillstead hit Palmer to get deep in Lone Peak territory again.
That time Skyridge had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by #36 that just sneaked through the corner of the uprights to make the score 17-7 at the break.
The Knights might have felt fortunate to be that close, since Lone Peak was able to limit the Falcon points in the first half with a blocked field goal attempt. There was also a Skyridge false start penalty at the 1-yard line kept the Falcons out of the end zone and forced the late field goal.
Skyridge scored after a bad snap for the Knights on a punt gave the Falcons the ball at the Lone Peak 10-yard line. Two plays later, Hillstead hit Palmer for the touchdown from six yards out.
The Knights answered on their next drive, going 80 yards in six plays. Lone Peak quarterback Jonah Heimuli found tight end Luke Tucker breaking free deep for the 27-yard TD pass to tie the game.
That set the stage for the dramatic back-and-forth second half.
“I loved the way our guys fought,” Skyridge head coach Jon Lehman said. “They came out and competed, they executed, they went out and made plays. We just fell a little bit short. When you get to this point in the playoffs, every little things matters.”
Lone Peak was missing head coach Bart Brockbank and both teams were missing some players due to positive COVID-19 tests.
“We weren’t playing with the energy on defense we normally play with,” Denney said. “With missing Coach (Brockbank) and missing a couple of guys, there were some doubts in our minds. We had an excuse to not play as well but at halftime our backs were against the wall. We told them to go out and make a difference.”
It’s the end of the road for the Falcons. Lehman said he is going to remember a team that battled through a lot of adversity in 2020.
“I think about the people who I have a chance to coach,” Lehman said. “This has been a year full of challenges. But every time we get to be together and these guys get to compete, it’s been fun. With all of the craziness going on in the world, every time we step in between the lines of the football field, it’s been amazing. I’m so proud of how these guys have handled every single moment and every single distraction. When I think back on this year, that’s what it will be about.”
The Knights now prepare to take on Corner Canyon in the 6A state championship, which is scheduled to be played on Friday.
The time and location of the title game has yet to be officially announced.