Friday night’s football game between Tooele and Grantsville had just about everything anyone could ask for from a rivalry game.
There were big hits. There was emotion. The star players were true stars. And, best of all, it came down to the final minutes, with Grantsville stopping Tooele on a late two-point conversion to come away with a 21-20 win.
As Grantsville coach Kody Byrd told me after the game, if this is what Tooele County football is becoming, we’re all in for something special.
First things first — Tooele senior Nukuluve Helu is an unstoppable force. There’s a reason he’s verbally committed to play football at Brigham Young University next fall. He’s not just bigger and stronger than everyone else, as a number of would-be Grantsville tacklers learned the hard way. He also has that open-field elusiveness that can’t be taught.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake is going to be one happy man once Helu shows up on campus in Provo next year.
While Tooele has the high-end talent, Grantsville has the blue-collar mentality. No, running backs Trent Brown and James Fuluvaka aren’t flashy. The Cowboys also were without two key pieces for much of the contest, as senior quarterback Jackson Sandberg sat out with a knee injury until time for Grantsville to run out the clock, and lineman Gauge Pyne exited the game in the first half with a shoulder injury.
The next-man-up mentality is hard to maintain when you don’t have as many “next men” to call upon as a smaller school. But don’t tell that to the Cowboys, and especially not backup quarterback Logan White. Since taking over for Sandberg during Grantsville’s season-opening loss to North Sanpete, the junior has gone 17-for-23 for 233 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Using the NFL’s quarterback rating system, where 158.3 is perfect and Drew Brees led the league with a mark of 115.7 last year, White’s passer rating is 127.4. Add in a rushing attack averaging 122 yards per game, and there’s a lot for opposing defenses to handle.
The emotion? That came from Tooele coach Andru Jones after his team fell just one point short of its first win of the season. The Buffaloes’ first-year coach wiped away tears as he talked about how hard his team worked and how they battled back from adversity, as well about his own frustration at play calls he would like to have had back.
In the grand scheme of things, it might have just been another non-region game in Week 2 of a 10-game season, with region games and the state playoffs still to come. But Jones and his players wanted this one bad. So, too, did Grantsville, though Brown noted that it would have been even sweeter had it come on the Cowboys’ home field, as last year’s victory did.
It remains to be seen what becomes of the Cowboys and Buffs this season. There’s still an awful lot of football left to be played, with too many variables to say that Friday’s game is a harbinger of things to come.
But for 48 minutes and four quarters on Friday night, Grantsville and Tooele showed what Tooele County high school football is all about.
In two weeks, Tooele and Stansbury will meet on the same field in another county rivalry game. I can’t wait.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He thinks the Friday night lights always shine brighter in rivalry games — even before Tooele got its fancy new lighting system this season. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.