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Westlake rolls off 27 unanswered points in comeback win over Alta

Westlake’s CB Kanyon Lee (33) is pressured by Alta’s RB  Ian Smith during a high school football game on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 at Alta High School in Sandy .

Westlake’s CB Kanyon Lee (33) is pressured by Alta’s RB Ian Smith during a high school football game on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 at Alta High School in Sandy . (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)


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SANDY — Westlake's versatile running back Kanyon Lee came crashing down, ball in hand, right on his lower back. More importantly, though, he came down right next to the goal line.

"I got injured but it was worth it," Lee said.

It was worth it because that single play seemed to awaken what had been a lifeless offense.

The 34-yard catch just before halftime set up the Thunder's first touchdown of the game. After that, they couldn't stop scoring; Westlake scored 27 unanswered points to top Alta 27-13.

"We started off kind of slow but we had to march down the field and go score," Lee said. "I thought, you know, put my body out there and catch the ball for the team."

The catch helped the Thunder turn things around, but the passer had a big part, too. If Friday was any indication, Westlake (2-0) has found its quarterback, and he's a bit of a gunslinger.

After the slow offensive start that featured multiple stalled drives, an interception and a 13-0 deficit, the Thunder turned to Garrison Higgins, a senior who moved to Utah from Hawaii over the summer, to lead the offense.

Higgins led Westlake on a seven-play scoring drive in the final minute of the first half — mainly by giving his receivers a chance. Thunder tight end Zach Allen caught a 19-yard pass in traffic to set up Lee's big catch, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Drake Youngberg with 8 seconds remaining in the half.

Things didn't slow down for Westlake after the break. Higgins was willing to put it up, and his receivers didn't let him down.

Allen gained 55 yards on a great catch and run to set up an 11-yard rushing score for Lee. In three plays, the Thunder were in the end zone again. And just like that, the Thunder couldn't be stopped — even when Alta (1-1) got excruciatingly close.

On its next possession, Westlake faced two fourth-and-longs — that was barely a convenience for Higgins as he found receivers for first-down conversions both times, which eventually set up another Lee touchdown to make it 20-13.

"I'm just looking at the defense and I see the open gaps," Higgins said. "Before the play starts, I know where I'm gonna go with it. if I see it, I just throw it right in there."

Higgins' fearlessness sparked Westlake. He wasn't afraid to throw jump balls or try to fit them into tight windows. For the most part, he connected.

And his performance against Alta may help decide the quarterback position moving forward. Both Higgins and starter Derek Anderson played in the opener, but the Thunder put up just 3 points in a season-opening win last week over Hunter and were held scoreless until Higgins took over and helped turn the Thunder into an explosive unit.

"I just throw it up there — accurate — and get them the ball," Higgins said.

That trust led to a lot of success at Alta.

"He's definitely bringing some confidence to this team," Lee said.

Higgings and Lee combined to lead the Thunder down the field again in the fourth, helping set up a 1-yard run by Anderson to make it a two-score game. And with how Westlake's defense was playing, that lead was awfully comfortable. The Thunder's defense consistently put pressure on Alta quarterback Ethan Jackson; and after halftime, the Hawks rarely even threatened to score.

Higgins and Lee made sure the offense didn't let the defensive effort go to waste, either.

The Hawks were hurt by the absence of BYU commit WR/DB Makai Kaufusi, who broke his collarbone in Alta's season-opening victory. Kaufusi is expected to be back before the playoffs begin.

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