South Summit had very little to cheer about after 24 minutes of football on Saturday, but over the next 24, the Wildcats were the only ones cheering in a classic tale of two halves.
After trailing 14-0 at halftime of the 2A semifinals against No. 3 Layton Christian, the No. 2 Wildcats took over the game with several forced turnovers and a recharged passing game and scored 17 unanswered point to come away with a thrilling 17-14 victory at Zions Bank Stadium, punching their ticket to the 2A state championship next weekend at Southern Utah University.
South Summit coach Michael Ruf said the Wildcats simply weren’t playing their game in the first half, and he told them as much at halftime.
“We just talked about how we’re better than this,” Ruf said. “We came out almost playing a little hesitant and staying back instead of bringing it at them.
“When we played before (the two teams played during the regular season with South Summit coming away with a 28-21 win), it was a very physical game, and that’s what it takes…you have to be physical to be able to beat them.”
LCA’s physically imposing offensive line made it virtually impossible for South Summit’s running back Trey Stembridge to get anywhere, as the Wildcats finished the game with just 27 total rushing yards.
Instead, the call came to senior quarterback Bracken Lassche, and he delivered in a big way, completing 17 of 23 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers.
Both of his scores came like lightning, as he hit Britton Woolstenhulme for 19 yards on South Summit’s opening drive of the second half and then he followed up an interception by his defense with an immediate 71-yard strike to Mitchell Gempeler to tie the game.
“I think that proves how much heart our team has,” Lassche said. “We were down 14-0, and I think it just proves what kind of team we are.”
Layton Christian’s methodical offense dominated time of possession from the beginning of the game. Despite starting the opening drive at their own 12-yard line, the Eagles slowly marched down the field with a 13-play, 88-yard drive that took 8:07 off the clock, culminating in a 19-yard touchdown run by quarterback Marcus Miles as he bowled through a few defenders to get over the line.
South Summit answered back with a long drive of its own and got down to LCA’s 1-yard line, but the Eagles defense made a dramatic goal-line stand, forcing the Wildcats into a fourth-down attempt.
On that play, Lassche rolled out left and fired off a pass that fell incomplete to send South Summit’s offense off the field with nothing to show for it.
Starting at its own 2-yard line, the Eagles punched their way out of safety territory and continued yet another clock-eating drive.
Trevor Halalilio burst through for a 37-yard run to get inside the 15-yard line, and although it took a few more plays to get it down, Halalilio got just over the plane on 3rd-and-1 to score LCA’s second TD and wrap up a 16-play, 98-yard drive that took 8:45 to complete.
After halftime, LCA continued to make its drives slow and methodical even as South Summit had come all the back into the game, but the Wildcats defense turned the pressure up on the Eagles, picking off Miles at their own 19-yard line, then forcing fumbles on every single subsequent LCA drive.
Miles finished the game 14 of 19 passing for 162 yards and an interception, while Halalilio ran 23 times for 134 yards and a TD.
The Wildcats are the only team in the 2A semifinals that did not take on undefeated No. 1 San Juan in the regular season, so the intrigue is strong in how South Summit can match up against the Broncos after defeating the Eagles, who gave San Juan arguably its best game in a 66-43 shootout.
“I think if we just come in confident in second half like we did,” Lassche said, “it’s anyone’s game.”