Already up 29-0 at halftime over their respected rivals, the South Summit Wildcats turned to one of the fastest players in 2A football to create a deficit the host North Summit Braves wouldn't be able to come back from.
Wildcat running back Hayden Packard returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown, dashing down the north sideline 98 yards to give South Summit a commanding 36-0 lead.
By the time the night was over, the Wildcats had toppled the Braves 39-6 in Coalville.
When asked what goes through his mind when he's searching for lanes on a kickoff return, Packard smiled and said, "Hope I don't get blindsided."
Instead, it was the Braves who were blindsided by their rivals. North Summit hasn't defeated South Summit since the 2008 season and, as Braves' head coach Devin Smith said, these losses sting more than most.
"Those games are a little harder to swallow than the others. It's the truth," he said. "When you win those rivalry games, it feels a little bit better than the others, and I know (South Summit) feels this way, too. Probably the only other game we'd rather win than that rivalry game is a state championship."
The Wildcats, who were coming off a deflating 21-0 loss at home to defending 2A state champion Manti on Sept. 21, seemed to take their frustrations out on the Braves. After North Summit's Ben Stephens fumbled on the second play of the game, South Summit was in business. Junior quarterback Caden Christenson put the Wildcats on the board with a 3-yard touchdown run.
On the first play of the second quarter, senior captain Jay Reidhead scored on a 4-yard run to give South Summit a 12-0 lead. The Wildcat defense utilized its speed to take Stephens, the prolific North Summit senior running back, out of the equation. After averaging well over 100 yards rushing per game in his previous four games, the Brave speedster was held in check, which hampered the North Summit option-based attack.
"Honestly, we've kept everybody in check this year," said South Summit head coach Jerry Parker. "Our defense is really good. Our defensive coordinator does a great job and our kids are all in as one."
The second quarter turned out to be the one that doomed the Braves as Carson Freestone added a 24-yard touchdown run to give South Summit a 19-0 lead. After North Summit went three-and-out, Packard took a handoff 46 yards for a touchdown with 3:04 remaining to give the Wildcats a 26-0 lead.
Late in the quarter, South Summit cornerback Nick Vidrine intercepted North Summit quarterback Ryan McMichael. That set up a long pass play by Christenson, who got the Wildcats within field-goal range. Sophomore kicker Bracken Santos nailed a 33-yard field goal as time expired and the Wildcats led their rivals 29-0 on the road.
"I just think we left the defense on the field too long," Smith said. "We needed to sustain drives on offense and that ultimately falls on me. I thought our kids played as hard as they could have. South Summit's very good."
Packard's memorable kickoff return was the only touchdown the Wildcats scored in the second half. Santos added another field goal, a 34-yarder, in the fourth quarter. With less than 10 seconds remaining in the game, the Braves were finally able to find their way onto the scoring sheet as McMichael found Trenton Killion over the middle for a touchdown.
By that time, however, it was moot. The scoreboard in Coalville read: South Summit 39, North Summit 6.
"It helped unleash what emotions we had from last week," Packard said of the rivalry win. "We just needed to put the pedal to the metal.
"It's huge because they've never won against us while I've been here. It's a big game between two communities."
The pendulum is currently swinging in favor of South Summit (5-2) as the Wildcats have won four consecutive rivalry games after North Summit (2-5) dominated 2A football and the rivalry in 2007 and 2008
"I'll take any game here," Parker explained. "I don't care if it's by one (point). You can never take it for granted."
For Smith, who has been associated with the North-South rivalry for almost his entire life, being on the losing end isn't fun.
"It's hard, I'm not gonna lie," he said. "The rivalry means a lot to me and it means a lot to our community. I want to win just as bad anybody else does."
Next up for the Wildcats is a tough trip to Emery this Friday to play the 4-2 Spartans.
"(This win) gives us motivation to go toward that next level, especially against Emery," Packard said. "It's going to be a big game."
As for the Braves, they'll face an improved Gunnison program on the road Friday. Smith said the Bulldogs are a very large and physical team and have standout Utah State University commit Braden Harris.
"I told our kids after the game, 'You for sure have three games left in your career and what do you want to make of it? If you quit and look for the next season or whatever it is, there will come a time you regret it,'" Smith said. "I encouraged them no matter what happens to give it their best to the very end."