SALT LAKE CITY — With one swooping run, Skyridge running back Ma’a Notoa set a tone for the game that Roy High just couldn’t match.
Notoa took a pitch to the left from the Roy 9-yard line, then with one arm tossed Jackson Cella aside and sent him careening into Kyrese Rowan.
Notoa scored the first touchdown of the game and the rest was a 5A state semifinal that Roy would prefer to forget. The Falcons (11-1) trounced the Royals (9-3) by a 42-15 score at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“I’m hurt. I saw this game going very differently,” senior Josh Gallegos said.
At first, the game appeared it would be close. After that touchdown run, Skyridge dispelled any lingering motion of a close game.
On Roy’s next drive, quarterback Jaxson Dart was sacked hard from behind and he fumbled. Skyridge recovered and scored on a 21-yard passing touchdown from Jayden Clemons to James Palmer two plays later.
Granted, Roy was within a touchdown at the end of the first quarter after Dart found Dionte Davis for a 60-yard passing touchdown past the secondary. Nathan Hulce recovered a fumble at the end of the first, but it was only a momentary lapse by the Falcons.
Dart had Davis open past the secondary on two occasions and overthrew him both times. Then Clemons hit a wide-open Tyler Arrington for a 29-yard touchdown pass.
On third-and-40 from Roy’s 2, Dart threw a pick-6 to Blayden Togiai. Notoa added a 2-yard rushing touchdown at the end of the half, smashing into Gallegos as he crossed the goal line.
It was 35-7 going into the locker room and the onslaught was on, punctuated when Roy head coach Fred Fernandes was ejected with 8:04 left in the game after successive unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
The Royals’ plan to limit Notoa and make Clemons beat them worked ... somewhat. Notoa had a hard time running in between the tackles and finished with 60 yards on 14 carries.
Clemons, meanwhile, had free rein wherever he wanted to run, plenty of time to throw in the pocket and a bevy of wide-open receivers to throw to.
He had 221 yards of total offense (152 passing) by halftime and finished with 314 and three total touchdowns — 130 yards of which were on the ground.
“He was better than we were around the edges,” Fernandes said.
The Falcons’ defense hit everybody hard and early. They limited Roy to 90 yards of offense and minus-18 rushing yards at the break and finished the game with 10 tackles-for-loss, with four sacks and three turnovers among them.
The Royals did get above positive rushing yards with a quick scoring drive in the third quarter that ended in a 2-yard Cade Harris touchdown catch from Dart to cut the score to 35-15. They finished with 59 rushing yards and Dart threw for 181 yards and two scores.
“We had to pay attention to substitutions and personnel groupings, and down and distance. It really took a lot of preparation from our players, but they really played a smart game today,” Falcons coach Jon Lehman said about his team’s defense.
But once again, some good chances went begging. Notoa fumbled on the first play after the touchdown and gave Roy the ball deep in Skyridge territory.
Dart threw a backwards pass on the next play that Skyridge recovered. Later in that ensuing Falcons’ drive, Clemons threw a backwards pass that Roy players ignored, thinking it was an incompletion.
As tempers flared after Fernandes’ ejection, Clemons capped the Skyridge scoring with a 31-yard touchdown run late in the game to send the Royals home one game short of the championship game.
Fernandes says ejection was misunderstanding
On fourth-and-13, Dart found Gallegos for a 12.9-yard pass to the right side. The referees measured it and marked Gallegos short, giving Skyridge the ball after a turnover on downs.
However, the replay shown on the stadium’s video board appeared to show Gallegos was down and had gained the first down. That was the focus of Fernandes’ anger.
He was out on the field near the hash marks yelling at the referees wanting an explanation. They threw a flag. Then they threw another one.
“It was warranted, I was out on the field. But I thought the first one was a warning, and then the second one was legit, but both of them were apparently fouls,” he said.
“I was kind of upset that the official was just ignoring me, and now I’m not upset at him because he wasn’t ignoring me. I was calling him the wrong name.”
Fernandes said the miscommunication came from a card handed to him by the head referee. The card lists the names of the game referees and their positions. Fernandes says the name of the side judge that was listed for the second half was actually the side judge who was listed for the first half.