Twice, the Tooele football team traveled to Eagle Mountain to face Cedar Valley this season, and twice, the game came down to the wire.
Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, both times, the Aviators came away with the win. No. 13 Cedar Valley held off No. 20 Tooele 28-21 on Friday in the first round of the Class 4A state football playoffs, keeping the Buffaloes out of the end zone in the waning minutes.
“That’s kind of been the story of the year, right there,” Tooele coach Andru Jones said. “We’ve got to learn during the offseason that once you get inside the 10, you’ve got to score. We’ve got to learn to finish things off.”
Tooele (2-8) had an opportunity to tie the game in the fourth quarter, driving to the Aviators’ 10-yard line. However, a penalty stalled the Buffs’ momentum, and they ended that possession empty-handed.
It was somewhat of a recurring theme for Tooele this season, as they had three red-zone possessions come up empty in a September loss to Ogden, and they missed opportunities in a season-opening loss to Green Canyon, Jones noted.
“That’s what separated us,” Jones said. “If we score in the red zone against Cedar Valley, we tie it and we probably go into overtime. To be honest with you, I was probably going to go for two if we scored, because we were going to go for the win.”
Tooele came out firing on Friday, opening their first possession with a successful double pass that set up their first touchdown of the evening — a 10-yard run by Mateaki Helu with 5:05 left in the first quarter.
Just 42 seconds later, the Aviators (6-4) answered with a 60-yard touchdown run by Vili Mausia to tie the score at 7-7, but Tooele had more tricks up its sleeve. Pulling a page out of the Philadelphia Eagles’ playbook from the Super Bowl in 2018, wide receiver Dylan Makoni threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Payton Sprouse. The extra point by Brady Grgich put Tooele up 14-7 with 40 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“I felt like we had a really, really good game plan in, especially offensively,” Jones said. “We just had different trick plays in and we had a two-quarterback system in (with Sprouse and Justic Tadifa). QB play was big for us on Friday and our kids knew the game plan so well that I think they were confident with it.”
However, Cedar Valley responded with three unanswered touchdowns over the next quarter and a half to jump in front. One busted coverage allowed Aviators quarterback Payton Weber to find Taygen Hansen for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 10:18 left in the first half, tying the game at 14-14. Another busted coverage led to a 20-yard halfback pass from Mausia to Lucas Peck for another score that gave Cedar Valley its first lead at 21-14 with 47 seconds left before halftime.
Then, with 4:10 left in the third quarter, the Aviators scored what proved to be the game-deciding touchdown when a Tooele blitz backfired. Weber got through for a 13-yard touchdown run that put Cedar Valley up 28-14.
“That made it hard,” Jones said.
Similar to the first meeting between the teams, when the Aviators took a 20-0 lead before holding off a late Tooele rally for a 23-21 win, the Buffs had a quick answer for Cedar Valley’s offensive onslaught. Just a minute and a half after Weber’s TD, Sprouse connected with Tabor Shepard for a 61-yard touchdown pass that pulled the Buffs within a score.
With nine starters expected to return next season on offense, and another seven or eight on defense, Jones said the experience his young team gained this season will be valuable going forward.
“The younger kids knew what a playoff game would feel like after being through nine games,” Jones said. “I think they were up for the challenge and they felt like they could play with (Cedar Valley), and they did. They played well enough to give it a shot — we just have to learn to finish.”
Jones said he planned to meet with his coaches Monday night to begin planning for the upcoming offseason, while the players will have all of November to recover from the season before beginning offseason training sessions.
Cedar Valley will travel to Millville to face No. 4 Ridgeline in a second-round game Friday night.