SYRACUSE -- The Syracuse Titans are on their way to the state 5-A semifinals for the second year in a row, but the victory came at a costly price.
Syracuse lost its starting quarterback, Brock Anderson, to a likely torn Achilles tendon late in the fourth quarter, which put a damper on a thrilling 31-24 victory by the Titans over a potent Alta squad that Syracuse also eliminated last year.
"It was a real gritty performance," Syracuse coach Russ Jones said. "It took everything we had to get it done. It's bittersweet because from what I'm hearing we probably lost our quarterback, but the kids just sucked it up and got after it. It was a great performance by everybody on our team."
The Titan defense, which came into the contest with four shutouts and an average of only seven points allowed per game, faced its stiffest challenge of the season. After Syracuse broke a 24-all tie on a three-yard Anderson run with 9:50 to play, the defense answered the bell.
Over Alta's final three possessions, the Titans forced a Hawk punt, Kavika Fonua picked off a Chipper Lucero pass in the end zone and Syracuse then broke up the potential game-tying touchdown in the end zone as time expired.
The contest could hardly have started worse for the Hawks as fumbles on their first three turns with the ball to open the game resulted in points for the Titans. Syracuse built a 17-0 buffer with 4:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Diante Mitchell kicked the scoring off with a 5-yard reception from Anderson in the back of the end zone. On Alta's next possession, Teague Vigil scooped up another Hawk fumble and rumbled 25 yards into the end zone for a 14-0 advantage. After the Hawks then coughed up the ensuing kickoff, Anderson booted a 32-yard field goal to provide Syracuse with an early three-score advantage.
"It was a great start," Jones said. "I know that (Alta) had some misfortune with some turnovers, but we still had to take advantage of it."
The explosive Alta offense, behind Lucero's 3,106 passing yards and 34 touchdowns during the season, wouldn't roll over however and began to pick away at the Syracuse advantage.
The Hawks broke onto the scoreboard on a quick screen pass to receiver Mack Richards who broke free down the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown. The Titans
answered right back with an 80-yard drive that was capped by a one-yard Anderson plunge. Alta then executed its two-minute offense flawlessly, going 72 yards using eight plays in only 90 seconds, to narrow the gap to 24-14 just before the half on a 27-yard Lucero connection to a diving Ammon Barker.
Late in the third quarter, the Hawks added a 29-yard field goal and then regained possession when an Alex Jolley interception -- Anderson's second of the game and only fourth for the year -- gave Alta the ball at the Syracuse seven. Lucero found Logan Harrison in the end zone to even the score at 24 with 2:02 left
in the third period.
Anderson and the Titans wasted no time in responding. After a long kickoff return gave Syracuse the ball in Alta territory, the Titans moved to the Hawk three where Anderson stretched to break the plane of the goal line for the eventual winning touchdown.
"(The Titans) have been good all year with adversity and they had to battle their way back," Jones said. "They knew the momentum was swinging and we had to get it back. The kids played their hearts out."