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Big Defense, Stephens Hat Trick Put Copper Hills in Championship

The second semifinal game in the UHSLL’s Class-B double-header was a far cry from the offensive track meet that the first game had been. The Highland Rams and Copper Hills Grizzlies both play with long offensive possessions and physical defense, making their match-up a chess match of sorts. The game started slowly, but ended in frantic fashion. Highland had been leading for most of the game but found themselves down a goal with under five minutes to play. That’s when the Ram’s Andrew Parkin found Jacob Romney on the crease who caught the ball and buried a jumpshot in the back of the cage, tying things up late. But Copper Hills’ Keaton Stephens, who already had two goals on the day, took the next possession at 3:19 left to play, went behind the cage at X and pushed to his right; with almost no angle, Stephens took a sidearm shot that somehow snuck past the keeper’s ear and nestled itself in the top corner of the goal. The next three minutes were a physical and furious fight for possession; with Copper Hills looking like they’d bleed out the clock after a timeout, they left the box with under two minutes to go and forfeited the ball back to the Rams. Highland made a mad dash at the cage, but the ball fell to the turf; a Ram player scooped the ball from out of the scrum and put a shot towards the goal that beat the Grizzly keeper, but it caromed off of the orange pipe and eventually time ran out with Copper Hills taking home the 8-7 victory and the chance to play for a state title.
“[It feels] really good,” remarked Copper Hills head coach Scott Park, “we fell short last year at this point. We’ve just been a kind of team that figures out how to win by the end of the game. We seem to have runs…at the half, we were only down by two and that’s nothing for us.”
The game started slowly with neither side able to get the upper hand for the first several minutes. A couple Copper Hills penalties yielded no dividends for the Rams and Highland keeper Chris Price turned away some early shots from the Grizzlies. At 5:46 left in the quarter, Highland finally broke the stalemate when Sam Whisenant’s shot hit off his defender and found itself back in his stick where he was able to step past his man and shoot again for the score. The goal set off a short run for the Rams with a Nick Romney low wing score and a man-up early bounce shot from the top of the box from Chase Duncan, ending the quarter with Highland up 3-0.
The second quarter started much like the first with long possessions but little results. Copper Hills finally got on the board when Zachary Park dodged from X and dumped it off to Keaton Stephens for the score. Highland responded, though, when Whisenant yard-saled the longpole he was riding, scooped the ball, drew a flag when he was fouled, and then circled around the back of the cage to put the ball over the keeper’s shoulder on the opposite side with 7:29 left in the half. Two minutes later, the Grizzlies’ LeRoy Sandberg III executed a nice spin dodge and ripped it low, and though the Highland keeper got a piece of it, the ball still trickled into the cage. Things then went back-and-forth and it looked like the half would end without another goal, but with just nine seconds remaining, Copper Hills’ Ethan Brown snuck a shot past the goalie to close the gap to one, then Highland took the consequent faceoff quickly into their offensive zone where the ball ended up loose, but was promptly scooped and scored by Ram Carter Robinson to close out the half with Highland leading 5-3.
Copper Hills kicked off the second half by closing the gap to one with a Zach Geigle turn and rip on the crease. But Robinson responded for Highland when he scooped a rolling clearing pass at midfield and took it all the way down for the tally. The Grizzlies then picked up their intensity and started to play like they really wanted it. Copper Hills’ Austin Hargis started winning most of the battles at the faceoff X and keeper Daniel Bell was actively coming out of the cage to snag loose balls. This led to more Grizzly possessions and three Copper Hills’ goals to end the period, including a dodge from X by longpole Nathan Davis who sent home a high-to-low shot, the quarter closing with Copper Hills leading 7-6.
In the fourth quarter, both defenses clamped down hard, determined to win the game on both ends by keeping the ball out of the net. Several Copper Hills’ penalties were fruitless for the Ram offense and the quarter was dominated by scrums for loose balls, turnovers, and failed clears. The only two goals scored were the equalizer from Highland’s Romney and what would prove to be the game-winner from Copper Hills’ Stephens to cap off the hat trick.
“We have to play a complete game,” said Coach Park, looking forward to the championship on Saturday, “the further we get on in these playoffs, the teams get better and better, and you can’t have quarters where you don’t play. Go Copper Hills!”
Copper Hills will find themselves in a match-up of Grizzlies as they face Logan in the Class-B championship at 4:30 pm at Corner Canyon High School.

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