SALT LAKE CITY – Dixie Flyers quarterback Ammon Takau nearly went from hero to zero with a 3AA state title on the line Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. A bad snap and an ill-advised incompletion gave the Hurricane Tigers a glimmer of hope with time winding down.
Enter R.J. Wilgar to save the day and give the Flyers a chance to exhale.
Wilgar intercepted a Josh Parker pass with less than two minutes left, and Dixie secured its second state crown in three seasons with a 27-19 win over Hurricane on a sun-drenched, comfortable day. After finding itself 2-4 at one point, the Flyers reeled off eight straight victories, including a gut-wrenching affair against a Hurricane team that had two major breakthroughs of its own.
“I was fortunate to cover enough ground,” Wilgar said of his game-clinching pick. “I just laid out for it and didn’t see where I was. I knew I had to put my foot down as quick as I could.”
The play was made essential after the Tigers (8-6) scored on a 10-yard touchdown from sophomore quarterback Josh Parker to Noah Elison with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game. On the Flyers’ next possession, Takau mishandled a snap on second down that turned into a 19-yard loss, then threw an incompletion to stop the clock and give Hurricane a chance with 2:42 left.
Takau never let the mishap worry him or his Flyer teammates.
“It’s stressful, but you can never lose faith, even when you feel sick to your stomach,” said Takau, who was 15 of 24 through the air for 199 yards with two touchdowns. “The defense needed to step up, and they did. All the faith and momentum came back, and it was awesome.”
Parker and the Tigers started from their own 35, but when Wilgar stepped in front of a pass and did the sideline ballet routine at the Dixie 18, the Flyers were able to breathe again and embrace another UHSAA championship trophy.
“When we were down, we kept believing in each other,” Takau said. “Most of this will set in after we get home. Great things come hard.”
Even with the added pressure of preserving a one-touchdown lead, Wilgar and his defensive mates didn’t wilt.
“We knew it would come down to the defense,” Wilgar said. “It came down to the last possession, and we were fortunate enough to make the big play. It’s amazing, the most unreal feeling I’ve felt so far.”
Dixie head coach Blaine Monkres said even with the attrition that happened through the game, the defense deserved all the credit.
“Our defense did a great job all day,” Monkres said. “They kept fighting back with guys getting hurt and dropping like flies, and the backups made a difference. We expected a dogfight today, and we got it.”
Hurricane trailed throughout, but got a 28-yard field goal from J.D. Stanworth with 24 seconds left in the first half to trim the Dixie lead to 14-6 at the break. After the Flyer defense recovered a Tiger fumble in the red zone, McLane Keenan hit a 29-yard field goal with 4:43 left in the third to push the margin to 17-6.
Then came a crazy fourth quarter.
Jeremiah Ieremia gave Hurricane a jolt of life when he scored on a 2-yard run, but the two-point conversion was missed. After an exchange of interceptions, the Flyers struck with 10 points in three and a half minutes. Tre Miller scored on a 57-yard run, then Keenan added a 32-yard field goal to give Dixie a 27-12 lead with 5:21 to play.
But when the Tigers answered with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that took just over two minutes, with Parker finishing it off with his TD pass to Elison. It set the stage for Dixie’s defensive heroics.
5A Championship: Bingham 20, American Fork 3
The Miners used a dominating defensive effort to repeat as 5A state champions with the win over the Cavemen. Running back Cameron Smith scored a pair of touchdowns and Chayden Johnston booted two field goals to give Bingham all the offense it would need.
Smith set a state championship record with 37 rushes for 191 yards.
4A Championship: Timpview 28, Roy 7
Timpview fell behind in the first half on a touchdown by the Royals, but a second half blitzkrieg helped the Timberwolves roll to their third straight 4A state championship.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter, @Tomzsports.