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High school football: Crimson Cliffs passes tough test against Ridgeline to advance to 4A state championship

It had been quite some time this season since the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs entered a fourth quarter still trotting out their starters.

No. 2 Crimson Cliffs entered the 4A state semifinals Friday as a heavy favorite, having just one loss on the season in a nailbiter to Bingham, a 6A quarterfinalist. It became clear as time went on during the game, however, that No. 6 Ridgeline was prepared to give them a real test.

Ultimately, the Mustangs passed that test as they survived a late attempt to tie the game and walked away with a thrilling 31-24 victory over the Riverhawks, punching their ticket to the 4A state championship game for the second straight year.

Having scarcely been challenged in either the Region 9 slate or the playoffs since then, Crimson Cliffs coach Wayne Alofipo felt the Mustangs needed to face some stiffer competition at some point, and Ridgeline granted his wish.

“This is the first time I’ve kept my (starters) in in the fourth quarter to the very end, other than the Bingham game this year,” Alofipo said. “All credit goes to Ridgeline. We needed that.

“We didn’t know how we would respond in these moments because we haven’t really had any, so I’m just proud of (our team). It speaks volumes to our senior leadership and what they do, and these boys just wanted it tonight.”

The game effectively ended thanks to a stellar play by the Mustangs’ defense. Ridgeline’s final offensive play was a pass attempt deflected at the line by senior lineman Parker Andrus, and it went into the arms of junior linebacker McKay Wright, who took it 53 yards the other way before being tackled inside Ridgeline’s 5 yard line in the final two minutes.

“I got lucky there, not gonna lie,” Wright said. “Our D-line, they caused that to pop, and I just happened to be there. I was just in the right place at the right time. That moment was awesome.”

Crimson Cliffs amassed a relatively low 403 yards of total offense, its lowest game total since Week 3 of the regular season. Senior quarterback Steele Barben had a solid night completing 77.1% of his passes for 238 yards and two TDs with an interception.

Junior running back McCord Christiansen, meanwhile, dictated much of the game early, running for 113 yards and two TDs in the first half alone. He finished with 161 net rushing yards.

“We needed to make sure they couldn’t spread us out,” Alofipo said. “We had to make sure they brought more guys into the box. McCord’s running forced that for us and allowed us to win some edges and stuff on the outside…critical and pivotal to our success.”

The Riverhawks actually managed to be the first to score, taking their opening drive 73 yards in 15 plays, ending on a 4-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Nate Dahle to senior receiver Samuel Peterson.

They were just the second team to score first on Crimson Cliffs this season (the other was Morgan in Week 1). Dahle finished the game completing 58.9% of his passes for 178 yards, two TDs and two INTs.

After the first drive, the Mustang offense put its foot on the gas in a hurry, running an up tempo rhythm that went 12 plays and 76 yards in just 2:39 of game time, and Christiansen capped it with a 7-yard TD run.

Christiansen then gave the team an early 14-7 lead with a 23-yard scoring run on its next drive, which only took another 1:12.

Not to be left behind, Ridgeline made a huge defensive play in the second quarter with an interception off of Barben, returning it to the Mustangs 31-yard line. A few plays later, Dahle found sophomore Graham Livingston in the end zone, and he fought through pass interference to reel in the TD catch.

Ridgeline deflected a punt on Crimson Cliffs’ next drive to take over in Mustang territory again, and Aaroun Young gave the Riverhawks a lead with a 27-yard field goal.

Just when it looked like Ridgeline had stolen all the momentum, the Mustangs went right back at it with a quick drive ending in a go-ahead 6-yard TD from Barben to senior Owen Peterson.

A bad throw by Dahle got picked with under 10 seconds to go to give Crimson a sudden chance to widen the lead, and the Mustangs delivered on it with a 24-yard field goal by TY Ottenschot to lead, 24-17.

The second half became dominated by defense both ways. The Mustangs opened up the half with a long drive down the field in 14 plays for 72 yards, ending with a 4-yard TD pass to senior Boston Adamson.

Ridgeline needed life, and the Riverhawks got some of it with a 1-yard TD by sophomore Krew Jones with just over 2 minutes left in the third quarter, but after Crimson Cliffs was able to stiffen up on defense in the fourth, Ridgeline’s last gasp simply fell in the wrong hands.

“It was an awesome refresher, because we’ve only had one other game where (our starters) played in the fourth quarter,” Wright said. “It was a good refresher to show us that we have to work all four quarters when we need to.”

The Mustangs will return to Rice-Eccles Stadium on next Friday to face No. 8 Green Canyon for the 4A title. Either of those two teams winning would secure its school’s first-ever state championship.

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