Never say die
Anyone who left the 2A state championship game at halftime when the North Summit Braves were down 20-7 to the Manti Templars missed the game of the year maybe even the decade. The Braves came back in the second half to score 18 points to beat Manti 31-28 and win their second state football championship in a row.
"It was a game to see," said North Summit head coach Jerre Holmes. "I don’t remember too many games like that. That had to be at the top."
The Braves came into the game knowing what they were in for. They had played Manti in late September and, despite a similar second-half comeback, lost the game by a touchdown. So, when 2A standout Griffin Aste and the rest of the Templars came out and scored three touchdowns, including two off of North Summit turnovers, the Braves knew they had to buckle down and stage another comeback.
"They were tough in the first half," said Holmes.
He said that things were relatively calm in the locker room at halftime, with just a few words said and a couple of adjustments made. He knew that the Braves were known for their battling attitude and was eager to see what they could do in the second half.
"At halftime, I really still believed they could do it," Holmes said.
"We knew we had a chance if we eliminated bad mistakes," senior running back Colby Richins said.
The Braves delivered. They scored on the first possession in the third quarter. A miscue on the ensuing kickoff gave Manti the ball back on the 41-yard line, which led to a touchdown. But the Braves were officially in battle mode. With about three minutes left in the third quarter, Richins ran in a 22-yard touchdown to make the score 28-21.
"Our kids just never quit," Holmes said. "They just kept battling. What it came down to was guts."
At the start of the fourth quarter, Colby Richins was making another run toward the end zone when a Manti defender popped the ball loose. Luckily, the Braves’ Bryer Trusell scooped it up and ran it in for a 45-yard touchdown.
With the game all tied up, North Summit got the ball back with just 1:11 left. After Richins’ prolific running in the second half, the North Summit coaching staff decided to run the ball and try and get the team within field-goal range. They made the right choice, as Richins averaged between 10 and 15 yards per carry to move the team down the field. They needed 51 yards to get a touchdown, and got 49 of them from Richins to set up the field goal with just 2.5 seconds left. Holmes said that Richins was running so well that they wanted to see if he could get the touchdown on the final carry, before settling for a field goal.
Greg Woolstenhulme, who had missed a field goal earlier in the game, seemed to put everything aside, easily drilling the ball 19 yards for the three points that would put the 2A trophy back in the Braves’ hands.
"Greg’s clutch," Richins said. "He’d been prepping for that."
Holmes said he couldn’t even watch the final kick.
"I was looking at the crowd," he said. "I just let everyone else tell me. I saw later it was the perfect kick. Everyone held and did their job."
Richins said that the win was the perfect ending to a high school career for him and the other seniors.
"We had 1:11 to take state," he said. "We knew we had worked four years for this. We knew it was our goal. We probably aren’t the biggest or strongest, but we never gave up on each other."
Richins’ effort was especially impressive because he was running hurt. He had bruised a thigh in the semifinal game against Juab game and he said it really began to hurt him in the second half of the finals. At that point, though, he wasn’t worried about any pain.
"I just played through it," Richins said. "Everyone played through injuries all year."
"We had a lot of guys play hurt," Holmes said. "They just refused to not play."
Richins finished the game with 12 carries for 128 yards and two receptions for 32 yards along with one touchdown and one fumble recovery.
It was more than just an offensive effort, though. The North Summit defense dug in, holding to Templars to the single touchdown in the second half.
"My concern was, would we be able to stop them enough times to win," Holmes said. "It seemed like everyone defensively stepped up a bit more. They made just enough stops."
He also praised the effort of the North Summit offensive line that created huge holes for the rushers.
"So much is said over the year about those who make the touchdowns and the big plays, but our line was outstanding," Holmes said. "We’re not sporting another state championship without them in the front."
"The line blew Manti off the ball," Richins said. "I just had to run. There was nothing there."
Holmes said the entire team has made the last few years something special for him.
"They’ve been a remarkable group to work with," he said.
Among them is his only son, Deven, the starting quarterback, who just turned 18 and was the driving force behind much of the Braves winning season. Against Manti, he had 20 carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns, as well as 53 passing yards.
The win is even more impressive because both Juab and Manti far outnumbered the Braves in enrollment. In fact, both schools have grown so large they will be making the move up to 3A next year.
"We didn’t have the depth they had," Richins said. "We made up for it in guts and heart."
The celebration for the Braves began at the county line with the Park City police escorting them to Coalville where the fire department took over as the bus rode into town. Upon the arrival, fans set off a series of fireworks and held an assembly for the team.
The Braves’ title win marked the second of two losses the team avenged in the playoffs. North Summit’s only regular-season losses were to Juab and Manti.
"It gave us just enough of an edge," Holmes said. "We knew we’d have to play our best to beat them."
The two losses were also the only two in four seasons for the group of 19 seniors who have three undefeated seasons (including freshman and junior varsity play) and two state champions in four years to their names.
"They got that taste of winning in their mouth and it just evolved," Holmes said.
The senior class is so dominant that every starting position except one was filled by a senior.
"I hated to see it end, because it’s such a great group," Holmes said. "If it had to end, I couldn’t think of a better way, though."
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