WASHINGTON TERRACE — Just four years ago, Bonneville High's football team limped to a 1-8 record, gave up 44.1 points per game and was especially a punching bag in region play.
How far the Lakers have come.
For the first time since 2002, Bonneville lifted a region championship trophy in football, its 19th in school history, capping an unbeaten Region 5 campaign by thrashing Box Elder 42-14 at Thom Budge Field in a rare winner-take-all region championship game.
For context, hardly any of the current players, if any at all, were alive for the last region title. The players took full advantage of the occasion, posing for photos on the field's logo and dousing head coach Jantz Afuvai with ice water.
"It feels incredible. I don't know how to explain it right now," Afuvai said. "All the hard work and the dedication that we put into this program and these kids, it finally pays off.
"It's the first ice bath I've had since I've been here, I'm surprised they did it because they're probably worried about up-downs on Monday, but I'll take that one day all day long. I love it."
In '02 when the Lakers last won the region title, Budge was still coaching. Just like those glory days for the Lakers, they'll enter the playoffs as a high seed — they were No. 6 in the 5A RPI rankings as of Friday morning — with at least one home playoff game to come later this month and will have a target on their backs.
All of this for a team that lost four weeks of practice in the summer due to two separate COVID-19 quarantines, lost two impactful starters to season-ending injuries and had even more depth concerns than normal.
Like so many of their games this year, the Lakers' offense sliced and diced an opponent apart with screen passes, swing passes, slants, hooks or any route that could be thrown in 10 yards or less.
Quarterback Kamen Best threw four touchdown passes, two in each half, and had a rushing touchdown as well.
"Kamen Best is one of the better quarterbacks I've seen in this area for a long time," Afuvai said.
Best had to jump to corral a high snap on the Lakers first drive of the game, but pulled it down and ran for a 7-yard touchdown to cap a 10-play, 77-yard touchdown drive.
Best threaded a 24-yard touchdown pass to Reiss Graybeal on the next drive for a 14-0 lead, a sign of things to come from the Lakers' offense.
Box Elder responded through a 21-yard touchdown pass from Parker Buchanan to Braylon Majors, who did well to grab the ball near the front pylon.
Seven plays and 76 yards later, Bonneville running back Kord Shaw ran around the left side for a 4-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
Graybeal caught a short screen pass on the next drive and with some shifty moves, turned it into a 23-yard touchdown catch and a 28-7 lead.
Graybeal's second TD catch was set up by a savvy throw from Best, who found Caleb Nielson on a short slant across the middle on what looked to everybody like a running play at first.
Nielson weaved through the defense and gained 48 yards, taking Bonneville from the shadow of its own goal post and deep into Box Elder territory to set up a score.
"It feels great to get that first region championship in 18 years. Our coaches gave us a great game plan, executed perfectly, prepared all week and then we were focused when it came down to it," Graybeal said.
The Lakers extended their 28-7 halftime lead to 35-7 when Best lobbed a 23-yard TD pass to Shaw in the front corner of the end zone. Buchanan bulldozed over the goal line for Box Elder to cut the lead to 35-14.
In the fourth quarter as the game devolved into a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct fest, Best threw a screen pass to Jordan Jacquez who took it for an 11-yard touchdown and the game's final scoring margin.
"It's amazing, it's so much fun to have a season like this. We're still going, too. I'm glad we got to help the coaches out with how much they've done with us," Best said.
For all of the success the offense has seen, Friday was the fourth straight game that Bonneville didn't let an opponent eclipse the 20-point mark.
"Our whole huddle call is check, they're making all the calls on the field which is really impressive for this group," Afuvai said.
The win was Bonneville's seventh in a row and also ended a four-game winning streak for Box Elder, who started the season 0-4 (the Bees were realistically two plays away from being 2-2) before improbably getting to the point of Friday's winner-take-all region title game.