Locked in a 7-7 tie with Ogden through three quarters on Friday night at Buffalo Stadium, the Tooele football team needed someone to make a big play or two to pick up a crucial Region 10 victory.
Senior Gavin Ware was more than happy to fill that role, whether it involved using his open-field speed or his ability to overpower would-be tacklers. Ware scored two touchdowns a little more than four minutes apart in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead score with 5:23 left in the game, to propel the Buffaloes to a 21-14 victory.
“It’s huge,” Ware said.”They were ranked ahead of us, so this was a home playoff game in my opinion for us. It puts us ahead of them in the rankings, and obviously what we want is a home playoff game. I consider that the biggest win of the season.”
Tooele (3-3, 2-1 Region 10) entered the fourth quarter of Friday’s game having scored just 20 points over its past nine quarters, dating back to the start of the second half against Ben Lomond two weeks earlier. However, a gutsy play call on third-and-5 from the Buffs’ 36-yard line jump-started the THS offense and fired up the home crowd on a crisp late-summer evening, as quarterback Kulani Iongi faked the handoff up the middle to Nukuluve Helu and instead handed the ball to Ware on a reverse.
“The good thing about our kids is that I’ve got multiple kids who can take it to the house,” Tooele coach Andru Jones said. “We tried (the reverse) in the first half and we fumbled it. We were trying to set it up the whole time, because we knew No. 5 (Chase Butler) was the spy on Luve (Helu). We kind of knew we were going to push it to one side and get it underneath to the other side. We started seeing it late, and when we needed the big play, it happened. It was perfect timing.”
Once Ware took the handoff from Iongi and turned the corner through the right side of the Tooele offensive line, he had nothing but green grass in front of him. Sixty-four yards later, he crossed the goal line for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead for the Buffs with 9:37 left in the game.
“First off, our pulling guards opened up a huge hole for me,” Ware said. “I’ve never seen a hole that big — you could have fit a truck through it. I hit the hole and I just said, ‘well, I can’t let anyone catch me now.’ I was looking the whole time, making sure there was no one, and luckily our line held up so I could bust one.”
However, Ogden (1-5, 0-3) had something left in the tank. A long kickoff return by Logan Shobe gave the Tigers the ball on the Tooele 49-yard line, and three plays later, Shobe ripped off a 44-yard run down the left sideline for a game-tying touchdown with 8:14 left.
Tooele still had the momentum from its previous drive, though. After getting the ball back at their own 27-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, the Buffs strung together a quick five-play, 73-yard drive. Iongi connected with Ware on an 11-yard pass to move the ball into Ogden territory, and Helu had a 43-yard run on the next play to get the ball down to the Tigers’ 1-yard line. Ware ran it in from there on the next play, running over an Ogden defender in the process to restore the Buffs’ seven-point lead.
“In that formation, (Jones) told us all week, ‘put your shoulder down and just run,’” Ware said. “You’ve got to get through the front line. It’s just big-on-big, blowing people up. Luckily, we were able to hold them long enough that I could pop one and get it in. All respect to that (Ogden) kid — he tried, but there was no stopping it.”
Tooele’s defense stood tall on Ogden’s final possession, stuffing Butler on third-and-3 and forcing an incomplete pass on fourth-and-5 to regain possession. The Buffaloes methodically ran town the clock, with an 8-yard run by Helu on second-and-5 and a 2-yard run by Ware on third-and-2 keeping the clock moving. The Buffs got all the way down to Ogden’s 1-yard line in the final seconds, but Jones opted to have his team take a knee out of respect to Tigers coach Erik Thompson — who had a major impact on him growing up.
“That coach over there was my coach in high school,” Jones said. “He knows me, we know each other and we run the same stuff — the same terminology and everything. It was mentor versus kid. That’s why I didn’t put it in at the end.”
Iongi had Tooele’s first touchdown of the evening on a 12-yard run with 4:27 left in the first quarter. Ogden tied the game early in the second quarter on a trick play, with Butler throwing a 32-yard touchdown pass to Enrique Gomez.
Helu led the Buffaloes with 202 rushing yards on 26 carries. Ware had 102 yards on seven attempts, while Iongi rushed four times for 19 yards and was 5-for-11 for 40 yards through the air. Defensively, Ty Sutherland had a team-high 17 tackles, while Ware had 13 and Drake Gritzmacher had 10. Joe Douglas and Dominic Ashcraft each had a sack and Kameron Rolle intercepted two passes from Ogden quarterback Isaiah Ortiz.
“This was a big one to kind of get us rolling again,” Jones said. “Every setback has a comeback, and that’s kind of what we’re preaching. We had a setback last week (against Stansbury), and it was time to get us a comeback.”
Tooele will play host to Cedar Valley in its homecoming game Friday night — its second-to-last home game of the regular season. The Aviators are tied with the Buffs in the region standings, having defeated Uintah and Ben Lomond after losing the region opener to Stansbury.