Braves fight to the bitter end | ParkRecord.com

Braves fight to the bitter end

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

Nathaniel Richins (25) intercepts the ball from a San Juan player in the semifinal game on Saturday.

The loyal football fans in Summit County weren’t counting on this. With two teams ranked at the top all season long, a state championship trophy in someone’s case seemed inevitable.

After Park City went down in the first round, the focus shifted eastward to Coalville. Like the Miners, the North Summit Braves seemed to be a team of destiny with two star running backs and a smart quarterback, who has deftly led his team to a 9-1 record thus far. They were also playing with the memory of a fallen teammate, Justen Hale, who was killed in a car accident midseason, now remembered with a No. 24 emblazoned on their helmets.

The Braves had proven they were a strong team that had endured a lot and were ready to make this year their year and bring the title back to an area that seemed sure of football glory.

But as Park City found out, the difference between glory and anguish is often a fumble, a field goal or a touchdown away. The Braves learned that sad lesson on Saturday when they lost 27-23 to San Juan in the 2A state semifinals at Juan Diego High School – just one game away from the championship.

"It makes it hard to be ranked No. 1 all season and not to be there," North Summit head coach Jerre Holmes said. "We’ve been through a lot this season having lost a teammate a few weeks ago."

The Braves never stopped believing that they were meant to move on, showing a relentless pursuit the entire game. Both teams turned in their fair share of dazzling plays and stomach-wrenching turnovers, keeping the crowd fully engaged in what may have been the most exciting game of the prep season.

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The game reached its peak in the fourth quarter. Locked at 20-20 with just minutes left, the Braves’ Greg Woolstenhulme made a 37-yard goal to put them ahead. A jubilant Holmes ran out to hug his sophomore kicker after what seemed like a game-sealing score. But then with just 37 seconds left, San Juan did the unthinkable, scoring on a 28-yard post-corner pass to Bradley Royer near the endzone to pull ahead 27-23.

North Summit still kept fighting. With 30 seconds left to earn a spot in the state title game, the Braves executed a stunning hook-and-ladder play from Kamren Garfield to Nathaniel Richins, which took the Braves down to the 30-yard line. On the ensuing play, Garfield completed a pass, but the Braves were unable to get out of bounds as the final seconds ticked away. The final attempt failed and the Braves headed home empty-handed.

"They played the whole season that way," Holmes said. "For the fans it was great to watch. We worked and fought to the finish."

The Braves will now look forward to earning their way back to the playoffs next season. The team loses 17 seniors, but Holmes is confident that their attitude and hard work will bring them to the big game next year.

"We’re going to lose a lot, but pay attention, we’ll be back," Holmes said.