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SALT LAKE CITY — All year Hurricane had Juan Diego in its cross hairs in hopes of finally capturing that elusive state title. When Juan Diego bowed out of the playoffs a week earlier than most expected, the sentiment was that this was finally Hurricane's year.
As much as coach Chris Homer tried to warn his players about getting a false sense of security, though, it took 24 minutes of getting pushed around by Spanish Fork before they finally realized their coach was serious.
"I really think our kids weren't ready for how good they were. I thought they were very competitive, very tough, very physical, and in the first half I thought they outplayed us," said Homer.
Fortunately for Hurricane, there was another half to play. The No. 1 Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the second half and did just enough to eke past the Dons 38-35 for the 3A semifinal victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium Thursday night.
With the victory, Hurricane advances to next Friday's 3A state championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. It will face the winner of today's Cedar-Desert Hills game.
"The good thing is Region 9 coaches, we get along really well. There's a respect factor, and we just feel good that one of us is going to get this monkey off our back for Region 9," said Homer.
Brian Scott was a beast for the Tigers carrying the ball 36 times for 206 yards and three touchdowns, with all three scores coming in the second half.
Early on though, it was Spanish Fork's offense that was in control. After punting on its first possession of the game, the Dons scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to open up a 21-14 lead late in the second quarter.
Christian Taele's 37-yard run made it 7-0, and then quarterback Hayden Nielsen connected with Luigy Paulino and Colton Olson to increase the lead to 21-14.
After surrendering TDs on three straight possessions, Hurricane's defense finally started to get some stops. Simultaneously, the Tigers' offense started flexing their muscles as well.
Ethan Stratton booted a 28-yard field goal on the final play of the half to cut Spanish Fork's lead to 21-17, and then Scott put the Tigers ahead for the first time early in the third quarter on a 1-yard burst.
"I thought it was huge. Momentum shifted," said Homer.
Scott scored again on an 11-yard run with 3:50 remaining in the third to extend Hurricane's lead to 31-21.
Despite giving up 17 straight points, Spanish Fork wasn't done yet. It marched 61 yards in seven plays to trim the lead to 31-28 as a wide-open Paulino hauled in a 29-yard TD pass from Hayden Nielsen.
There was no panic with Hurricane, however, as it ground out an 11-play drive with Scott stumbling over the goal line on a 5-yard TD run to put Hurricane back in front 38-28.
One again though, the big-play Dons fought their way back with Nielsen hitting Paulino on a 12-yard pass with 2:08 remaining to trim the lead to 38-35. Nielsen finished the game completing 15 of 27 passes for 239 yards and four touchdowns.
"They made so many big plays to wrestle momentum back to their side, but they just ran out of time," said Homer.
Spanish Fork had a great chance to recover the onside kick, but Hurricane's Adam Thompson wrestled it away at the bottom of the pile, and the Tigers ran out the clock to advance to the title game for the fourth consecutive year.