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5A championship game: 4th-down troubles cost Bountiful football in 23-15 loss to Timpview

By PATRICK CARR - Prep Sports Reporter | Nov 17, 2023

Patrick Carr, Standard-Examiner

Bountiful High's football team gathers after falling to Timpview 23-15 in the 5A championship game Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

SALT LAKE CITY -- When the Bountiful High football team thinks back on its 2023 season and state tournament run, it might be happy with what it accomplished.

The Redhawks, who didn't win Region 5, were a No. 10 seed and roared through four playoff games to get to Friday's 5A title game at Rice-Eccles Stadium against No. 1 Timpview.

Three of the playoff wins came against a better seed. Bountiful won 10 games. It played on the final day of the season.

But it's the "how" of the 23-15 title-game loss to the No. 1 Thunderbirds (11-2) that may bug Bountiful (10-5).

"I'm just proud of my team, they fought to the end," Bountiful senior Faletau Satuala said. "Hopefully all these kids come back here next year. Hopefully they learn and they bring our whole team back here next year to take it all."

The Redhawks got the ball to the Timpview red zone three times -- to the 2-yard line, the 7-yard line and the 15 -- and failed on fourth down all three times.

Only in the third quarter when the Redhawks trailed 23-8 did the missed fourth downs -- three made field goals theoretically would have made it a 23-17 game down the stretch -- come back to haunt them.

Timpview only outgained Bountiful 353-350 on total offense, committed five more penalties than Bountiful and punted twice as many times as Bountiful.

The key stats, however: the Redhawks were 1 for 7 on fourth downs and 3 of 12 on third downs.

"I'm proud. Proud of our team for their fight and their effort. Gotta tip your hat to Timpview, they made more plays than we did," Bountiful coach Jason Freckleton said. "We had opportunities and we didn't execute. They did, so you gotta give them credit."

Trailing 23-8 late in the game, senior Faletau Satuala caught a 20-yard touchdown pass to get Bountiful to a 23-15 margin.

The Thunderbirds recovered the onside kick that followed, but some clock mismanagement gave Bountiful the ball back with 1:13 left at its own 34-yard line.

Ironically, the final drive ended when Bountiful couldn't convert a fourth down. Satuala caught a crossing route on fourth-and-10, threw off a defender, surged forward and went down close to the line to gain.

The referees brought out the chain and measured: the ball was maybe less than a yard short, cueing a wild celebration on the Timpview sideline and bowed heads on the Bountiful sideline.

"I'm sure proud of our boys for fighting 'til the end. They could've given up many times, but they never did. That's a tough group," Freckleton said.

Bountiful sophomore running back Siaki Fekitoa, who won the starting job late in the season after success against the starting defense in practice, ran 17 times for 148 yards against a big, physical Timpview defense.

Both teams marched down the field on their opening possession. The difference was Timpview scored and Bountiful didn't, and the Redhawks couldn't stop Timpview defensively, ceding 237 first-half yards on 36 plays.

The Thunderbirds scored with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Helaman Casuga to Quezon Villa over two defenders.

On Bountiful's first drive, Fekitoa ran down Timpview's throat until the Redhawks got to the goal line, where Fekitoa was stopped cold on fourth down at the 1.

The Thunderbirds then went 99 yards down the field to go up 13-0. Timpview's run defense sent the Redhawks back on the next drive but Bountiful still got to the red zone again, only for Emerson Geilman to miss a fourth-down pass intended for Satuala.

Thunderbirds kicker Luke Thornock, who made a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat Olympus in last week's semifinal, made a 35-yard field goal to put Bountiful in a 16-0 hole at halftime.

Bountiful went three-and-out to start the second half, tried a fake punt from its own 29-yard line, failed and looked like it was about to allow another touchdown before defensive lineman Caleb Norris intercepted a pass he tipped to save the Redhawks.

They immediately found the run game on the next drive as Fekitoa burst to the right side, tripped and still ran for a 32-yard TD. Brandon Wilkinson caught the 2-point conversion to cut the score to 16-8 with 8:49 left in the third quarter.

Sixty-nine seconds later, Timpview completed an emphatic six-play, 65-yard drive with an 8-yard TD toss from Casuga to Jaron Pula to recapture a two-score lead as well as the game's proverbial "momentum."

Both teams traded missed chances, penalties and turnovers afterward -- Britton Tidwell intercepted a Timpview pass -- until Satuala's late TD catch made it a one-score game. But the comeback wasn't to be for the Redhawks.

Bountiful's playoff run included three wins over better-seeded teams and a lot of "firsts" or some ends to long droughts.

"It's on the heart and believing. We all just -- great leadership, great team, everyone just believed every single time. No one gave up in any game, we knew no matter what just never give up," Satuala said.

The Redhawks made their first title-game appearance since 2003 when they completed a back-to-back championship.

They're the first Davis County public school to play for a football championship since Syracuse in 2012 and yearned to be the first Davis County public school to win a football title since Davis in 2004.

Last week, the Redhawks not only beat Alta but scored against Alta for the first time ever -- yes, ever (Alta won the prior two meetings by a combined 35-0).

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