SALT LAKE CITY — The football team from Crimson Cliffs passed its biggest test of the year and will play for the 4A state championship.
Crimson Cliffs senior Steele Barben punts against Ridgeline in a 4A state semifinal football game, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 10, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
Fittingly, the Mustangs defense came up with a huge play to stop Ridgeline on its last possession of the game in Friday night’s semifinal game and Crimson Cliffs won 31-24 to advance to next week’s state title matchup with Green Canyon. The game was contested at Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah, also the site of the championship game.
With a little over a minute remaining and Ridgeline driving, Parker Andrus deflected a pass that fell right into McKay Wright’s hands for an interception, sealing the victory for the Mustangs.
“That’s the kids that have made plays all year,” Mustangs coach Wayne Alofipo told St. George News after the game.
“Parker Andrus steps up and makes the play and then McKay Wright comes off and finishes it,” Alofipo added. “Couldn’t ask for a better ending for two big-time players making big-time plays in big-time moments.”
Both teams had critical fourth-down attempts in the final quarter, but it was Crimson Cliffs’ defense that came up biggest when it had to.
The defenses for both teams came into the game yielding the fewest points in 4A, but the offenses found ways to score early and often in a closely fought semifinal contest.
“We needed that. We didn’t know how we would respond in these moments because we haven’t really had any,” Alofipo said. “So I’m just proud of them. It speaks volumes to our senior leadership and what they do and these boys just wanted it tonight.”
Neither defense showed up to start the game.
Ridgeline got the ball after the opening kickoff and used a series of runs and short passes to move down the field.
The Riverhawks completed a 15-play, 73-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Nate Dahle to Samuel Peterson and Ridgeline led 7-0.
Crimson Cliffs receiver Boston Adamson runs for yards against Ridgeline in a 4A state semifinal football game, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 10, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
Crimson Cliffs immediately responded, taking the ensuing kickoff 76 yards down the field and finishing with a 7-yard touchdown run from McCord Christiansen to tie the game 7-7.
It was the first time in the last five games that Crimson Cliffs only scored one touchdown in the first quarter and it was only the second time this season that the Mustangs didn’t score first.
Ridgeline was stopped on a third-down run on its next possession. Kaden Haws busted into the backfield for the tackle and the Mustangs got the ball back on a punt.
The Mustangs needed only six plays to drive 63 yards and score again, this time on a 22-yard scamper to the house by Christiansen, and Crimson led 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Ridgeline’s next drive stalled and Crimson took over at its 11-yard line. Christiansen ripped off a big 30-yard run. But Ridgeline’s Trace Dustin intercepted Barben’s next pass.
The Riverhawks used the momentum from the turnover to go 31 yards in four plays, ending with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Dahle to Graham Livingston and again the score was knotted 14-14.
Ridgeline kept pouring on the pressure. Trey Purser blocked a Crimson punt and the Riverhawks started a drive in the red zone.
The Mustangs defense rallied and held the Riverhawks to Aaron Young’s 27-yard field goal, giving Ridgeline a 17-14 lead.
But Crimson came back again, going 75 yards in 11 plays. Boston Adamson caught a critical fourth-down conversion pass to sustain the drive, and Owen Peterson’s 6-yard touchdown reception from Barben finished it.
Then the Mustangs’ Brayden Phillips intercepted Dahle, his second turnover in as many weeks, on Ridgeline’s next possession.
Crimson Cliffs receiver Ty West gains yards against Ridgeline in a 4A state semifinal football game, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 10, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
Crimson quickly passed down the field, then Ty Ottenschott booted a 24-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, giving the Mustangs a 24-17 lead at halftime, setting up the dramatics in the fourth quarter.
Barben finished with 238 passing yards, completing 27-of-35 passes for two touchdowns.
Mustangs junior Christiansen had his game of the year, rushing for 163 yards on 22 carries and scoring twice.
Receivers Peterson and Adamson each had a touchdown reception in the victory.
Crimson advances to face another Region 11 foe, Green Canyon, in the 4A state title game Friday, Nov. 17, at 11 a.m. at Rice Eccles Stadium.
“That’s the focus for me. I’m already thinking about it,” Alofipo said. “Green Canyon is going to be a great opponent and we’re going to make sure we show up ready to go.”
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