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SALT LAKE CITY — All season, Austin Bell has been the lifeblood of Corner Canyon’s football team, fueling an undefeated season with 1,148 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.
When the tailback went down a week ago with an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow — an injury that will likely require surgery — the Chargers were emotionally stunned by the news of a season ended too soon.
They also needed someone to step up in his absence. Talmage Handley was more than happy to oblige.
Cole Hagen threw for 280 yards and three touchdown passes and ran for 87 yards and another score, and Handley caught three passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns to lead Corner Canyon to a 33-7 win over Lone Peak in a Class 6A state semifinal Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Cody Hagen added six catches for 90 yards for the undefeated Chargers, who held the Knights scoreless for three quarters with four turnovers.
“I was ready to go,” said Handley, who missed the Chargers’ 56-0 quarterfinal win over Syracuse with a concussion. “I just wanted to go ball out and have fun with my bros.
“We just wanted to come out, show out and show everyone what we were made of.”
With each player having “#10” inscribed on each bicep, the Chargers (13-0) put on a show: 379 yards of offense, 280 yards through the air, and just three punts on the afternoon.
Bell is an offensive leader for the Chargers, but he’s more of an emotional leader.
“They love that kid. It was pretty emotional for our kids when they found out yesterday that he couldn’t go,” Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar said. “Mostly it was for him. It wasn’t just that we didn’t have Austin, but he’s a kid that they work their butt off with every day.
“It was a big deal to not have him. But the kids were out here and ready to compete for him.”
Added Cole Hagen: “We just knew that we would have to come out and find other ways to score, without Austin.”
Cole Hagen dropped in an 80-yard touchdown pass to Handley on the Chargers’ first offensive play of the game, then added a 9-yard score to John Glavin to give Corner Canyon a 13-0 halftime lead. The senior quarterback added a second touchdown for 57 yards to Handley that put the Chargers up, 20-0 before the end of the third quarter.
“That really gave us some momentum early,” Cole Hagen said. “It just showed that we were going to be aggressive the whole game.”
BYU commit Josh Wilson had 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a fumble, and Texas commit Van Fillinger added seven tackles and tackle for loss to lead Corner Canyon’s defense, which had three sacks, six tackles for loss and interceptions by Cade McDougal, Andrew McDonald and Quinn Andra.
The Chargers held the Knights (4-10) to their lowest scoring output since Sep. 12, 2014.
“Our defense is incredible. It’s been incredible like that all year,” Kjar said. “Our defensive coordinator does a really, really good job. It’s been solid since we’ve been at Corner Canyon. Our defense has really led our team, for the most part.”
Lone Peak capitalized on two fourth-down conversions to score through Nate Ritchie’s 2-yard touchdown plunge to open the fourth quarter. But it was the only offense the Knights could muster, as Cole Hagen scored on a 57-yard option run to help seal the win even before Andra’s pick-six with 2:01 remaining.
Ritchie led Lone Peak with 56 yards on 10 rushes, and added 18 receiving yards as well as three tackles on defense. Jared Fotu led the Knights with six tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, and teammate Luke Durfey added six tackles.
Corner Canyon can become the first team to win a Class 6A championship in their first year moving up since the UHSAA added the division in 2017.
“That was our goal from the start of the season: to get to where we are now,” Hagen said. “Next week’s the one that matters.
“Coming up, people wondered if we would be able to hang with the other 6A teams. We just wanted to come out, play our football, and do the best that we can.”