SALT LAKE CITY — In its first year in the upper division, the East Leopards advanced to the 6A championship game Friday after defeating the Lone Peak Knights 28-13.
The Leopards started out slow, scoring only one touchdown in the first half against a Lone Peak defense that matched East’s run-heavy game well. But a third-quarter offensive surge lifted the Leopards past the Knights as East scored 21 unanswered points.
Coming off a first half with 0 passing yards, East senior quarterback got the offense moving in the second half as he connected with safety-turned-wide receiver Jaylon Vickers on a 56-yard touchdown pass. It was the first score of the third quarter and the moment where East finally found an offensive rhythm.
East’s run game picked up steam following Vickers’ touchdown as junior Charlie Vincent rushed for back-to-back touchdowns to give the Leopards a 28-7 lead. Vincent’s first touchdown came on a 43-yard rush where he broke several tackles to get into the end zone, capping off a two play, 50-yard drive.
Vincent followed that up with a 21-yard rushing touchdown on a pitch from Ford on East’s next drive. Vincent led the team with 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
“Once we get in the flow of the game we figure out what teams are trying to do as they always do something different,” East head coach Trevor Matich said. “It takes us a minute sometimes, but we played really, really well on the defensive side of the football.”
Lone Peak would score a final touchdown with under a minute to play in the game to cut into East’s lead, but it was too little, too late for the Knights. Senior quarterback Brock Jones found receiver Cody Collins on a 9-yard toss for a touchdown. Collins was the team’s leading receiver with 149 yards and two touchdowns on 10 receptions.
East’s first touchdown came on a 39-yard rushing touchdown by junior Spann Xavier in the first quarter. Lone Peak would even up the score in the second quarter on a 39-yard passing touchdown to Collins, capping off a five play, 61-yard drive.
Matich said East made “two big mistakes” that lead to Lone Peak scoring its first touchdown of the game.
“That was on us,” Matich said. “Lone Peak is a very good team — they’re athletic, they’re well coached and hats off to them for the success had, and that’s a big-time program for my guys to beat — but at the end of the day we can’t beat ourselves and make those type of mistakes in the secondary.”
Defense ruled the first half as both teams limited the opposing offense. It was East’s defensive front, though, that put its stamp on the game and gave Lone Peak’s Jones little time to throw the ball. East would end the game with nine sacks for 60 yards and 11 tackles for loss. Three East players — Viliami Tausinga, Paul Maile and Johnson Hansen — finished with two sacks apiece.
East advances to the 6A championship game that will be held on Friday, Nov. 17 at 2:30 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium. East will play the winner of the Bingham-Herriman game. East suffered its first loss of the season to Bingham (48-17) in a highly-anticipated 6A matchup.
“It feels great,” Vickers said in his hopes to play Bingham again. “We want our revenge.”