High school football: No more bad memories as Timpview wins 5A championship to break big drought

SALT LAKE CITY — It was hard for Donny Atuaia just to walk past the east corner of the south end zone at Rice-Eccles Stadium before the 5A state championship game started Friday.

It was in that spot that his Timpview team surrendered a game-winning touchdown in triple-overtime a season ago and watched its title hopes fade all at once against Lehi.

Perhaps Atuaia will have better feelings in the same stadium about the 44-yard line.

It was that line that No. 1 Timpview defended successfully on fourth down with under a minute remaining to stave off a rally from No. 10 Bountiful and claim a long-awaited 5A state championship, the first 5A state title in Timpview’s history and 12th in school history, tying for sixth-most all-time in state history.

Timpview’s defense was key in clutch situations throughout the matchup. The Thunderbirds not only ended the game effectively on a fourth-down stop but also held Bountiful scoreless on three different fourth-down tries inside Timpview’s 10-yard line.

Bountiful finished the game 1 of 7 on fourth down.

Leading the Thunderbirds on offense, sophomore quarterback Helaman Casuga weathered a tough second half as Bountiful rallied, and he finished the game 16 of 29 passing for 231 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions — and one big monkey off his back after last season.

“After that loss, I had the determination to come back here and revisit this beautiful place and get my ring,” Casuga said. “I think that’s been our goal as a team.”

Timpview senior Quezon Villa led all receivers in the game with six catches for 112 yards and a TD, and senior running back Tru To’a led with 21 carries for 92 yards and a score.

For all of Timpview’s historic dominance since winning the 4A championship in 2014, the last decade might have felt snakebitten as a Timpview supporter as the Thunderbirds reached the title game four times and lost every time.

Atuaia said that the team stayed focused not on the streak, but on playing its best game, and the community support only grew stronger over the past year.

“This year has been the best when it comes to the support of the community,” Atuaia said. “When it came to these last two weeks, it’s been awesome for (the team) not to lose any focus and say, ‘We haven’t won, so let’s do this.’”

The Thunderbirds were well in control for nearly the entire game as they took a 16-0 lead at halftime. Casuga’s first TD pass of the game came in the first quarter, as he scrambled right and fired to the corner of the end zone where Villa jumped over two defenders for an impressive toe-tapping score.

Early in the third quarter, Bountiful finally struck as junior defensive end Caleb Norris batted a Casuga throw into the air at the line of scrimmage and caught it himself for a thrilling interception.

Needing to get on the board, senior quarterback Emerson Geilman and the offense made good on the opportunity with a few solid runs capped by a 32-yard touchdown run down the sideline by sophomore running back Siaki Fekitoa.

Timpview’s answer? A six-play, 65-yard drive in just over a minute as Casuga connected with sophomore receiver Jaron Pula for an 8-yard score to keep well ahead of the Redhawks.

Late in the fourth quarter, Bountiful went into desperation mode and managed another score as Geilman connected with senior star receiver Faletau Satuala, who broke several tackles for a 20-yard touchdown to get within a possession.

After forcing a punt by Timpview, Bountiful got a chance with roughly 1:30 to go, but on fourth down, needing 10 yards, Satuala’s run after the catch was stopped less than a yard short, and the chain gang stepped in to confirm it.

As the base of the first marking pole hit the turf, Timpview fans erupted in celebration.

With the mission accomplished, Casuga had one more item on his to-do list: he sent senior backup quarterback Brigham Richards to kneel the final downs.

“It’s just the friendship that we’ve had on and off the field,” Casuga said. “I’m going to miss him a lot. It’s wonderful that I was able to get him a ring.”

Correction: This article originally said Timpview had won its 14th state title in school history, but it has won 12. The school is now tied for the sixth-most all-time titles in the state.

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