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Westlake's late field goal lifts Thunder over Roy 30-28 in instant classic

Westlake's DB Ryan Peaslee celebrates after scoring during a high school football game against Alta High on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 at Alta High School in Sandy.

Westlake's DB Ryan Peaslee celebrates after scoring during a high school football game against Alta High on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021 at Alta High School in Sandy. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

ROY — Westlake held a late lead over Roy by 6 points with just under three minutes left in the game.

The Thunder had been stuffed on third-and-short at midfield and looked ready to punt; instead, Westlake's punter and backup running back Tobias Staples tried to run it straight ahead for the first down. The Roy return team was ready for the fake and stopped Staples short of the line, setting up the Royals with a short field.

On the next play, Roy quarterback Parker Kingston showed off his wheels — a main reason the BYU offered him — when he escaped the pocket and scrambled for a 50-yard rushing touchdown. The score gave the Royals a 28-27 lead with 2:12 left to play.

On the ensuing series for Westlake, the Thunder were down to their last timeout and in need of a few big throws from Westlake quarterback Garrison Higgins to get into field goal range. Higgins had made tight-window throws all night and continued that on the team's final possession to get his team across the 50-yard line with less than a minute left.

But the senior quarterback saved his best throw of the night for the final drive when he avoided a sack and escaped the pocket to the left.

With Royals defenders closing in on him fast, Higgins lofted a pass along the Westlake sideline and connected with receiver Aidan Hammond who dragged his toes to make an incredible sideline catch. Hammond's first and biggest catch of the night put the Thunder inside the red zone with less than 40 seconds left.

After two failed scoring attempts and with only 11 seconds remaining in regulation, Thunder head coach Louis Wong decided to send out his kicker Cooper Cowan to attempt the 15-yard field goal. Cowan, who also plays safety and leads the team in interceptions, started the night by hitting the left goal post on an eerily similar kick to the one he was about to attempt.

But this time, the first team All-Region 4 safety knocked it through the uprights to give the Thunder a 30-28 win over the Royals in opening round of the 6A state tournament.

It's the third straight season Westlake has lost at least three of their final games of the regular season and gone on to upset a team in opening round.

"It all starts with our preparation," Thunder defensive coordinator Viliami Halasima said. "The film showed us this Roy team is very comfortable in close games, so all week we preached to our guys that we can't blink, and we have to make plays in big moments."

Westlake came into the contest with a 3-7 record, with many of those losses coming against the lethal Region 4 teams. The Thunder got outscored in their final three games of the regular season 139-7, but Halasima credited the team's message of "flushing" the previous game away and focusing on the next opponent.

"It's tough, but we spend a lot of time talking with our guys about their mentality early in the week," Halasima said. "We know with those rough weeks if we don't have the correct mindset things can get out of control if we don't move on from it quickly."

Westlake had contributions from senior running back Kanyon Lee, whose patient running style allowed him to score two touchdowns and have his biggest game of the season. Thunder receiver Zachary Allen hauled in one of the best catches of the high school season when he rose up in the corner of the end zone and hauled in a one-handed catch — OBJ style — to give his team a 21-14 lead at the half.

"We all fought hard and came together as a team to get the win," said Higgins, who transferred into Westlake from a high school in Hawaii before the season. "I'm stoked and look forward to what's next because anything's possible in the playoffs."

Westlake moves to 4-7 and will head to Skyridge Friday to take on the 9-1 Falcons in the second round of the playoffs.

Other scores around 6A playoffs

  • Kearns 31, Fremont 30
  • Riverton 63, Cyprus 6
  • Layton 24, Hunter 10
  • Syracuse 33, Pleasant Grove 7
  • Herriman 35, Davis 21
  • West Jordan 27, Clearfield 0
  • West 35, Granger 16

6A second-round bracket

All games played at home sites on Oct. 29.

  • No. 1 Corner Canyon v. No. 16 Kearns, 6 p.m.
  • No. 9 Riverton v. No. 8 American Fork, 6 p.m.
  • No. 4 Weber v. No. 13 Layton, 6 p.m.
  • No. 12 Syracuse v. No. 5 Mountain Ridge, 6 p.m.
  • No. 2 Lone Peak v. No. 18 Herriman, 6 p.m.
  • No. 10 West Jordan v. No. 7 Bingham, 6 p.m.
  • No. 3 Skyridge v. No. 19 Westlake, 6 p.m.
  • No. 11 West v. No. 6 Farmington, 6 p.m.


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