A pretty incredible way to finish off the Utah High School Lacrosse season. With the two teams that had been ranked 1st and 2nd throughout most of the year, and then both respectively taking care of business to make it into the the final. Juan Diego themselves had a fantastic year with multiple players winning all-state honors and having a near-perfect record in the regular season; their only loss being to Brighton earlier last month. With an impressive run in the playoffs that included a big win against an excellent 3rd-ranked Corner Canyon team to get in the finale, Juan Diego looked like the one team who could take down the Bengals. Brighton had been heavy favorites since the preseason and had that pressure along with each opponent’s best shot to take down the “Number One Team” all season. With the lofty expectations and pressure, they were able to work their way through a perfect regular season in-state record, and then dominate the first 3 rounds of the playoffs to set up the championship game against perennial title contender Juan Diego. With a season of dominating all challengers, their closest in-state game being 4 goals, and their only losses coming during a trip to California, it was no big surprise that they ended up winning the championship, 8-6. What was surprising was how they won it.
Juan Diego came out strong and Alec Meyer was able to find Reilly Dumas open on crease to give Juan Diego the early lead. Soon after, Brighton’s All-American attackman Bubba Fairman was able to find Tennison Schmidt to put in the equalizer. On the ensuing face-off, Juan Diego 1st team All-state midfielder Tristan Courtney won the face-off and quickly turned it into a fast break where he was able to dodge through multiple defenders and then put the Soaring Eagle up 2-1. Then towards the end of the 1st quarter, Juan Diego’s Zach Madsen was able to scoop up a deflected pass from Brighton’s keeper Canyon Curtis and get a quick shot in past Curtis who was out of place, to put the Soaring Eagle up 3-1 and Brighton in an uncomfortable and relatively unknown position.
Alec Meyer started out the 2nd quarter with a transition goal, followed by Chantz Hower going hard to the right side from the top of the box and sending a rip in past Curtis to put Juan Diego up 5-1. With Brighton down 4 and approaching halftime, the tension in the stadium was palpable. Could this actually happen? Could the team who had won all games by over 4 get blown out at home for the championship? With Juan Diego dominating on both sides of the ball and goalie Sean Edwards playing lights out, it seemed like something Juan Diego was going to finish. Just before the half, Justus Peterson found Bubba open in transition who was able to send a hard rip in top right on the goalie for Brighton, making it 5-2 for Juan Diego going into the Half.
The second half began with Tennison Schmidt getting a man-up goal to cut the lead to 3. A number of tough defensive stands by both teams took up the majority of the 3rd quarter until Chantz Hower was able to take a hard rip and put Juan Diego back up on top, leading 6-3 with 4:48 remaining in the 3rd quarter. The Brighton fans became more and more nervous as the game entered the 4th quarter still down 6-3.
The Brighton defense clamped down, backed by some great saves by Canyon Curtis. Dylan Pearmain scooped up a ground ball after forcing a turn from the goalie and putting it in near crease to make it 6-4. Soon after, Bubba Fairman wrapped around crease and sent an angry shot in high past Edwards, cutting Juan Diego’s lead to 6-5. Soaring Eagle goalie Sean Edwards had been playing incredible throughout the game, but the offensive onslaught put on by Brighton during the second half became too much for any goalie to handle. As Brighton’s unofficial long stick attackman, Bryson Taylor, came down on a clear he was able to feed Hunter Albert on the top of the box who was able to throw in the game-tying shot with 5:54 left to play in the game.
With time running out in the biggest game of the year all eyes went to the stars for the teams. It seemed obvious that Bubba Fairman or Tristan Courtney was going to make some sort of magic happen for their team to put them over the hump. But it was relatively unheralded Kaden Garden for Brighton who ended up making the big plays at the end. First he sent in a feed to Pearmain, whose shot was blocked, but Tennison Schmidt was able to scoop it up and finish to put Brighton up by one. Then Garden went one-on-one from the left side, dodged, hesitated, and then made his mov–sending a close shot that was tipped by Edwards but still made it in to put Brighton up 8-6. After some valiant offensive efforts by Juan Diego that were thwarted by the fantastic defensive combination of poles Nathan Kenney, Jake Miller, Bryson Taylor, Cam Folkerson, and d-middie Max Hoole, the Bengals were able to pull off the comeback.
No one had tested Brighton like this in Utah, so it made for some very tense moments during the comeback, many around the league had wondered what might happen if one of the other great teams in the state were to be able to get a lead on Brighton–would they be able to figure out how to play from behind and catch up or would they fall from the weight of the lofty expectations? They proved they were up to the task and it was a fun and very impressive ending to a great season of Utah lacrosse.
Coach Brandon Horoba on getting them calmed down after getting into the hole: “It’s a testament to the senior leadership, this team is driven by seniors. We talked at timeouts about calming down and playing our game and things like that, but those guys went out and did it, and they were led by a great group of seniors. This team has just been led by them all year.” On holding Juan Diego to 1 goal in the second half: “That’s what we’ve been doing all year. We’ve got 4 studs in Nathan, Jake, Bryson, and Cam with Max at middie, and those guys, they get it done each and every game, and they just clamped down.” On proudest moment of their championship run: “That 4th quarter, being down 6-3, and having their goalie (Edwards) play like he was playing. Knowing that it was an uphill battle, being down 6-3 and watching those guys just fight and fight and want to go get it. Second to that is hearing all the GPAs and hearing where they’re going to school–those things make it awesome!”
Bubba Fairman on finding themselves in that hole at halftime for the first time in-state: “We’ve never been in that position before, but I think we have enough senior leadership and coaching leadership that that’s what pulled us out of that. We also just had heart, our team has worked so hard all year and that just comes down to our dedication and they really displayed it there.” On the moment that spurred the comeback: “Right at second half we’re man-up, we got that goal, and then our coaches always say goals come in bunches. It started going uphill from there: we got a couple, and then we tied it up, and we just kept going.” Favorite moment of the season: “At halftime, we had that adversity and some things were said that got everybody excited and we came out to play hard and came out on top of the game.”