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SYRACUSE — It seemed there were only two questions to be answered in Friday night’s football game between the Syracuse Titans and the Alta Hawks. Would the Hawks exact revenge for last year's 5A first-round defeat, or would the Titans prove they really were as good a team as their undefeated Region 1 record suggested?
Would they or wouldn't they? The answer depended on who you asked and to which camp they belonged.
Just like any good mystery novel — the case was solved. Yes, Syracuse really is that good. The Titans remain undefeated (11-0) after shutting down the Alta Hawks 31-24 in this year's 5A quarterfinals. It was a no-holds-barred, nail-biting contest that went down to the last seconds for the finale.
But, like the novel — there was a teaser left remaining, a hook to draw fans back for a look at the next installment, the next game. As it turned out, there was also a third question to be answered — will the Syracuse Titans be able to execute their incredible brand of hang-tough football next week without starting quarterback Brock Anderson at the helm?
A pass rush by Alta with only 3:58 minutes left in the fourth quarter got close to Anderson — but even untouched, he dropped to the ground in agony. Minutes went by before Anderson finally rode off the field, his right foot and ankle encased in a plastic brace. Up to that point, the silence was almost as deafening as the roars of the crowd had been earlier. "What?" "How?" Those were now the questions being asked. After the dust settled, the word came down that a torn Achilles tendon had finished Anderson’s high school career early.
A blow like this would have been devastating to any team. It certainly caused a hiccup for the Titan offense. But this Syracuse team, the entire team, plays as one forward-motion body. They quickly regrouped and held off a pounding Alta onslaught for the win.
Any maybe that was the true story of the night — the Syracuse Titans are capable of withstanding any storm.
“Everybody did their job tonight. That’s what this Titan team is all about,” said offensive coach Jared Martin. “We had a couple of injuries tonight. We lost Koa Mo’o in the first half and his backup, Colton Chadwick, came in and did a great job. He battled for us and gave us a chance to win.
"Late in the ball game QB Brock Anderson went down and Spencer Johnson came in and did a good job grinding the clock and forced Alta to use their timeouts. Kiwa Mo’o and Diante Mitchell made some great catches for us. Obviously Brock Anderson was key in putting the ball in spots where they could do that, including a huge play in the fourth quarter where Matt Kealamakia got us down to the goal line for the winning touchdown.”
As the game began, it looked like the Titans were going to send the Hawks home early, as three turnovers led to 17 unanswered points in eight minutes, including LB Teague Vigil’s rumbling 33-yard run into the end zone after intercepting a fumble at the hands of Alta's Harrison Handley. Two PATs and a 31-yard field goal kick by Anderson put a lid on the first quarter mayhem.
Not to be left out in the cold, a 38-yard bullet pass by QB Chipper Lucero to Mack Richards 10 seconds into the quarter delivered the Hawks' first touchdown. Syracuse answered back with its own 80-yard drive, capped with a 1-yard backward tip into the paint by Anderson with four minutes left on the clock. Another Lucero long-bomb pass two minutes later to Ammon Barker drove in a second TD. The first half ended 24-14 in favor of the Titans.
“Obviously winning at Alta’s place last year gave us some confidence. Alta, Bingham, and some of the other Salt Lake schools have been the power-brokers in 5A football for a number of years, “ said coach Martin. “When you come up against a name like Alta, you know you’re in for a battle, and our kids were excited to be able to play a great team.”
The third quarter was all about ball control for Alta and errors for Syracuse. First, a 31-yard Hawk field goal was delivered by Tanner Valerio, and again as a Titan pass interception at the 6-yard line by Alex Jolley set up a touchdown by Logan Harrison. The score was now tied at 24-24.
A solid fourth quarter offensive drive, with carries by Mason Woodward and Matt Kealamakia, found the Titans at the 5-yard line, where Anderson delivered the TD and the PAT — bringing the score to 31-24.
The Hawks were unable to find footing on their possession, and Syracuse regained the ball on the 41-yard line. Two passes later the game stopped cold, with 3:58 on the clock, as Anderson suddenly droppd, incapacitated, to the field. Regrouping, and facing fourth-and-9, Diante Mitchell punted the ball to Alta.
Myles Naisbitt delivered a crushing QB sack to Lucero, followed by DB Kavika Fonua’s pass interception. Syracuse retook possession on its own 20-yard line but efforts to advance the ball failed, and the ball was again punted, this time to the Hawks' 38-yard line. Completed passes to Richards and Trevor Hill brought the Hawks within potential TD passing range. Another QB sack by Jace Purser at the 0:19.4 second mark had the crowd on its feet. An incomplete pass to Handley, stopped by Dillon Spencer and Fonua, drained the remaining 5.7 seconds off the clock. The Titans won 31-24, and they have left no doubt they can deliver.
“This is what high school football is all about — big crowds, and kids stepping up on both teams, making plays,” said coach Martin. “You’ve got to give credit to all the kids, regardless of what jersey they were wearing. Alta’s kids battled, making big plays for their team. In the end our kids just made a few extra plays to come away with the win.”