Sandy football seniors stand tall after playoff opening loss
As the final whistle blew on what was a difficult outing, the Sandy football seniors lingered together on the field, ignoring the driving rain and wind.
There were tears, hugs and smiles, even though the opening round of playoffs didn't go as they hoped.
"After the game I told them I love them, and that this is hard," said Coach Josh Dill, whose voice caught with emotion. "This is my first four-year class in Sandy, a special group of kids."
"They bought in and worked hard," he added. "The victory is seeing the men they have become, how they have grown up and learned accountability."
No. 27 Sandy lost 40-0 to No. 22 Lakeridge on the road during a stormy Friday night, Nov. 4. The game was part of the next-best 16 teams, after organizers split the 6A football postseason. The lower bracket is vying for the Columbia Cup.
"Football hurts when it ends. It's not like other games where you can keep playing your whole life … you need that team around you," Dill said.
Another cloud over the game was a scary situation in the second quarter. On a defensive stop, senior Jared Mayo collided with a teammate and the ball carrier, sustaining an injury to his neck. As training staff stabilized him, an ambulance took him from the field to the hospital. While being placed on a stretcher Mayo was able to talk, move his feet and squeeze the hands of his loved ones, who made their way from the stands onto the field.
After the final whistle the coaching staff got confirmation that nothing was broken, and Mayo is expected to make a full recovery.
"You see a senior, a family member, go down, you are worried," Dill said. "But praise God he didn't break his neck and he is going to be OK."
"It was a big emotional blow to the team, and it was hard for the players not to have that worry in the back of their minds," he added.
The Pacers scored early and often in the victory. The first came on their second possession of the game, when senior quarterback Ryan Oliver followed up a deep heave with a five-yard scoring scramble up the middle. Later in the first Oliver connected on a 25-yard pass to junior Tashi Crofut to make it 12-0.
Meanwhile, Sandy threatened to score twice in the first half on promising drives. Senior running back Garrett Willenberg strung together his normal bruising runs, dragging hapless defenders in his wake; junior quarterback Billy Lucas extended plays with his legs; and senior tight end Leithan Thompson hauled in several first down catches.
But both times Sandy stalled and turned it over on downs, thanks in large part to a Lakeridge defense that was bend-don't-break.
Following the prolonged injury stoppage, Lakeridge scored three times in quick succession to slam the door on any potential comeback and spark a running clock in the fourth quarter. Stephens scored twice — a 55-yard-run and a 79-yard scamper. Then, after recovering a squib kick, senior Baylor Corbin hauled in a 30-yard touchdown catch.
The final score of the game was a 63-yard end around by freshman Ansu Sanoe halfway through the third.
Though it will take time for the Pioneers to see the bright side, Dill was happy the team got to keep playing together for an extra week with the postseason.
"You can't manufacture that experience," he said.
"These seniors left a legacy that is special, showed our younger players what it means to be a Pioneer football player," he added.
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