High school football: Skyridge QB McCae Hillstead poised in 6A final

In the week after suffering a severe high ankle sprain during a game on Sept. 9, Skyridge quarterback McCae Hillstead got several opinions on what to do.

One involved letting it heal on its own and maybe playing again his senior year. Another involved surgery, which also came with no guarantees about playing again in 2022. The surgery, however, seemed the higher probability. When the quickest surgery option presented itself in Alabama, he was on a plane and had surgery on Sept. 20.

The hope was he might be able to play again in 5-6 weeks.

“It was a risk, cause you go get that surgery and you have no idea if you’ll play again,” said Skyridge coach Jon Lehman.

Indeed, Hillstead returned to the field about six weeks later and his presence proved instrumental in leading Skyridge to its first-ever state championship with a 17-7 win over Corner Canyon at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday in the 6A title game.

Hillstead finished the game completing 19 of 28 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns.

Early Friday morning, before the game, Hillstead told the coaches his ankle didn’t feel that good, and even though he was committed to play it certainly changed the play-calling as he only had six rushes.

“He’s a few weeks out of his surgery, but he’s not healthy, and he battled. To see him on that journey is special,” said Lehman.

The Utah State commit ended up missing six games while out with injury, and statistically he was better throwing the ball when he returned. In his three playoff wins over Davis, Bingham and Corner Canyon he threw for a combined 668 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception. It was better than any three-game stretch earlier this season.

One of Hillstead’s greatest traits ever since he took over as Skyridge’s starting QB as a sophomore was his poise. Regardless of the circumstances or how big a game was he just never seemed overwhelmed by the moment.

“To me the games are all the same, I don’t feel much pressure. I just go out there and do my job,” said Hillstead.

Asked to grade himself in his first-ever championship game appearance, he thought it was pretty good.

“Maybe had a few mistakes like everybody does, but big moments I made big plays,” said Hillstead.

On the opening drive of the game, he had two third-down completions to extend the drive and then hit Kyle Valdez on a 32-yard TD pass for the first points of the game.

In the second half on another key drive that put Skyridge ahead 17-7, Hillstead completed 5 of 5 passes for 44 yards and an 11-yard TD pass to Jace Doman, who got a few more seconds to work his way open at the back of the end zone as Hillstead’s modest scrambling ability extended the play.

He wasn’t the same running threat he was earlier in the season when he rushed for seven touchdowns in the first four games, but he didn’t care one bit, he was just happy to be back on the field making plays and wrapping up his high school career with a state championship.

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