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Herriman Romps to Utah Final

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Herriman Romps to Utah Final

Fotu opened up the scoring for Herriman. Tamara Tidey photo.

In a matchup between two single-school heavyweights in Utah’s single school semifinals, Herriman remained undefeated in what has been a carbon copy in nearly every game this season – jumping out to a huge lead, and conceding tries after the subs ran on.

The game was a rematch of an early March scrimmage between the two which Herriman won 46-16, but this game appeared a bit different on paper as East had several key players who did not play in the first matchup and had been decimating everybody they had faced since, including a massive 43-15 victory over a much-improved Highland team. Herriman also had two starters who did not face the Leopards the first time around, so this game promised to have a little different flavor.

The Mustangs made a statement early, scoring on the very first possession after getting turnover ball from their kickoff.  The ball moved wide to the sideline and, seeing that there was an overlap back the other way, the ball was swung wide to the opposite sideline where it found Leki Fotu’s hands.  The giant, yet fleet-footed No. 8 was too great a mismatch in space, and touched down for a 5-0 lead.

West Point Camp

East attempted to get back in to the game by imposing their physical will on the Mustangs. The Leopards are bigger than many college teams, both in the pack as well as the backline, and boast six Division I football commits. The smaller Herriman team would not yield, however, and another turnover at the breakdown would see the ball moved down to within two meters,  where Tomasi Tonga picked up off of the back of the ruck, dummied wide, and hopped back in tight to extend over the line for a try. Jaeron Masina kicked the conversion, 12-0.

Herriman would continue to threaten, but got careless near the line. A knock-on from three meters out, and a poor lineout throw stolen by Loa Kaufusi, would thwart promising possessions.  Junior center Juney Leakehe pressured the East backline, forcing a poor pass that led to a penalty. Tonga tapped quickly and sidestepped his way in for Herriman's third try. Masina was true on the sideline conversion for a 19-0 advantage.

East would get some much needed momentum with under ten minutes to play in the first half. Tonga placed a nice kick behind the far side wing, but a hustling Fa Toli was able to chase it down and evade a hard charging Beto Lui and run down the sideline to put the Leopards deep in to Herriman territory.  From there, a series of Herriman penalties and repeated taps to the huge East forwards pounded the ball ahead.  Toli, who is plenty big enough to play in the pack himself, took the final tap from ten meters out and ran through a Herriman defense still in retreat.  The kick was true to close the gap to 19-7.

An errant kick by Herriman on the restart gave East a midfield scrum, and scrumhalf Connor Allision made a nice break right back in to the Herriman territory.  Preston Miranda was able to force a turnover at the ruck, however, and Masina – the tighthead prop who is nimble enough to play flyhalf for the Mustang 7s - was out wide to make a nice break down the sideline and give some breathing room, followed by another break by lock Karson Hammer before he was forced in to touch in East territory. Hammer atoned for this with a stolen lineout, which led to a lineout overthrow by East that was picked up by junior lock Drew McDaniel.  East would get the ball back, but Tonga poached at the breakdown and find junior EIRA hooker Gabe Mahuinga for a 20-meter rumble to get Herriman close.  A wide movement saw clear ball from the ruck back to Noah Vaea, and the shift junior would cut through 2 East defenders to touch down at full time and five Herriman a 24-7 lead in to the half.

The Mustangs nearly scored right away to open the second half, as Fotu and Hammer led the way down the sideline.  Hammer would go in to touch again, but would also once again steal the throw in.  Vaea made a slashing, midfield break and found Hammer in support, but the mobile forward was wrapped up at the goal line and, perhaps not knowing where he was, attempted an offload to Fotu instead of touching down for a possible score.  Fotu touched down but assistant referee and Utah Head of Officials Sam Madsen correctly determined that the ball had gone forward from Hammer’s hands.  Herriman would continue to squander opportunities in the East territory when Brig Rush took a clearing kick at the 50, sidestepped two would-be tacklers, and made to within ten meters of the line before being pinged for not releasing. The Mustangs would come right back, however, with McDaniel chasing down another overthrow and after 3 phases of go forward the ball would find itself to Vaea who would take a gap, commit two defenders, and offload to a supporting Tonga who would complete his hat trick. 

A Mahuinga scrum steal would nearly set up another score, as Tonga found Juney Leakehe for a twisting run ahead. But like several other attacking possessions on the day, the ball would be lost inside ten meters as Herriman continued to struggle with possession and patience down close. A score was to come anyhow, as the East clear off of the ensuing scrum was knocked down by a stiff wind and hit low, bouncing in to the arms of a streaking Rush who caught it at full pace and outran his opposing wing around the edge for a score to extend the margin to 34-7. 

Herriman would continue to dominate possession, and worked the ball down the field patiently through multiple phases.  Leakehe was close to another score, but East counter rucked nicely and regained possession near their own end.  A few tight phases brought the Mustang defense in tight as more bodies were required for the physical East side, which left a gap out wide.  With Herriman’s back 3 overplaying the kick, the defense was slow to come up and the ball found its way to Kaufusi.  The 6-4, 220 Stanford football commit put on an impressive athletic display, outrunning Rush and Lui for a spectacular 70 meter score.  To add insult to injury, Herriman’s Misi Vakapuna was yellow carded for an infringement at the prior breakdown, giving East a great deal of momentum. 

The experienced Herriman side would step up to take away any hope of a comeback, as Mahuinga would find Zak Barker with a skip pass, which then saw several offloads find Leakehe for a breakaway.  After committing several defenders, he would find a streaking Fotu who showed great pace of his own for a big man, sprinting ahead 30 meters for a converted try to put the game out of reach at 41-14.  Herriman nearly scored again to add to the lead after Mahuinga stole an East scrum. The ball came rocketing out the back quickly, and junior Anthony Perschon grabbed it before most of the players knew what was happening, stepped to the weakside, and sprinted in for an apparent score.  However, in a strange turn of events, the score was called back because the ball was called out the side of the scrum, and East player was given a yellow card, and Herriman was awarded a penalty.  Nate Maiava nearly scored off of the tap, but was called for carrying the ball over the line, and Herriman would once again squander an opportunity down close.  

With the outcome no longer in question, Herriman would sub in its allotment of senior reserves, who were playing at home for the last time.  Denver Osborne was particularly strong in replacement, while Kaufusi and Allison continued to make nice plays for the visitors.  Gavin Herd dotted down for East on a nice support line off of an Allison break, and PJ Leaaetoa added one more score at the death to close the final margin to 41-24.  

Herriman moves on to the state title game on Saturday for a familiar matchup v. Snow Canyon. The two teams have played for the title 2 of the last 3 years, with each winning one, and this year’s contest promises to be no less thrilling.  Herriman’s 7/8 team also advanced to their title game on Saturday, and will play the Rhinos.  East, meanwhile, gets the opportunity to play for 3rd place v. an improving Highland squad that came up short against Snow Canyon 24-12 in the other semi.