COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — In a closely contested game between the Timpview Thunderbirds and Brighton Bengals, two plays in the kicking game would prove to be the biggest difference to give Timpview a 35-24 win.
The ninth-seeded Thunderbirds traveled to take on the top-seeded Bengals in the Class 5A quarterfinals of the state tournament. In a wild first half that included four turnovers (two by each team), the Thunderbirds were up 21-17 at the half.
On Timpview's second drive of the third quarter, the Brighton defense forced a punt on fourth-and-6 — at least that is what was supposed to happen, but corner Raider Damuni, who was playing as punter, caught the snap and stepped like he was preparing to punt the ball. Instead, he cut back left and took off in a dead sprint.
After a few more dazzling cuts he would fly into the end zone for a 62-yard rushing touchdown to put Timpview up 28-17 with just under a minute left in the third quarter. It was a huge momentum swing for the Thunderbirds, and they did't want to give Brighton a chance to snatch the momentum back, so they went for the onside kick.
The kick worked to perfection as the ball bounced off a Bengals player's foot before the Thunderbirds easily recovered it. A few plays later, quarterback Liu Aumavae found Jaxon Allred wide open for a 19-yard touchdown to put Timpview up 35-17.
The deficit would prove to be too much for the Bengals to claw their way back, and Timpview held on to the upset victory.
"We've always believed that we're one of the best teams in 5A," said Timpview head coach Andy Stokes, noting he never doubted his team's ability. "We're not giving a chance because we don't have the right record, but we'll take those three losses so we can be prepared for games like this."
Stokes' message rang true to his players, and Damuni said the team's previous losses this season helped the team become stronger than ever.
"We suffered some tough losses early in the season, and looking back on it those losses really made us stronger," Damuni said. "They brought us closer together as a team and now our bond is unbreakable. I love my brothers and I am so grateful we were able to come out here and get a win tonight."
One unit for Timpview that was unbreakable for most of the night was their defense. From the very first moment, the defense was intent on causing havoc for the Bengals offense, and that is exactly what it did.
On the Bengals' first play, quarterback Gabe Curtis kept it on a read option and ran into the Timpview defensive line. The Thunderbirds were able to rip it out of Curtis' hands and defensive end Braxton Fely picked it up and ran it in for an 8-yard touchdown to give his team an early 7-0 lead.
"Any kind of turnover gives you some juice, but when it becomes a scoop-and-score then that's huge," Stokes said. "We rely on our defense to do big time things and that's exactly what they did tonight."
Brighton came into the night scoring at least 49 points in their last four games, but all that changed as the Thunderbirds hold them to their second-lowest output of the season. Timpview will go on to face the winner of the Salem Hills-Wasatch quarterfinals matchup in next week's 5A semifinals in St. George.