SALT LAKE CITY — Jordan High's heartbroken football team might find a tiny bit of solace if it would try and heed this famed wisdom once spoken by the late, great Vince Lombardi: "We didn't lose the game, we just ran out of time."
Indeed, coach Lombardi's comforting words would certainly apply to these Beetdiggers, who gave top-ranked, undefeated Lone Peak all it wanted in Friday's 5A state semifinals — even after Jordan's stellar freshman quarterback, Austin Kafentzis, went out with a broken collarbone midway through the second quarter.
Lesser teams might've simply thrown in the towel and given up after losing their star QB and best offensive weapon, who had accounted for 45 touchdowns and nearly 4,600 yards in total offense this season before his untimely injury Friday afternoon.
But Jordan (10-3) refused to quit or concede a thing, instead rallying its forces behind sophomore signal-caller Baron Gajkowski to take a 33-24 lead midway through the third quarter.
The 'Diggers were still clinging to a 41-38 lead with time running out before Lone Peak's own superb QB, Chase Hansen, led his team downfield and scored the go-ahead touchdown with just 31 seconds left to give the Knights a wild 45-41 win at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"He stepped in and did a really good job," Jordan coach Eric Kjar said of Gajkowski, who battled Kafentzis for the starting quarterback job in fall camp but had only played the position sparingly on the junior varsity level since. "It's unfortunate to lose Austin, but Baron did a good job of just hopping in and going to work right away. He just went to work and did a good job, especially for not getting a lot of reps. He played really well."
After Kafentzis had helped account for Jordan's first two touchdowns, Gajkowski was pressed into service and responded by completing 13-of-23 passes for 261 yards. He also rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown, but he was shedding tears of frustration after the game as his older brother Mason, a senior receiver who had 217 yards receiving and hauled in a 61-yard touchdown pass from Kafentzis in the first quarter, hugged him and tried to console his younger brother after the game ended.
"My receivers just made me look good," said Baron Gajkowski, who threw two interceptions, the second one coming on the Beetdiggers' final, desperate, last-gasp possession after Hansen's late touchdown. "Our receivers make us look so good, and it's sickening to see how much credit quarterbacks get as far as the way our team plays. I've played receiver and I know how hard they work.
"My hat goes off to our seniors. … These seniors are the best athletes I've ever played football with.
"My brother's my best friend; he's everything to me. And to be out on this field, I felt like I let him down tonight," he said.
Kjar, though, didn't see it that way at all. Instead, he was mighty proud of his team for the way they never gave up, and rightfully so.
"They kept fighting," he said. "They fought hard and played hard. They did a good job."
Yep, they sure did. And they didn't lose this game — nope, they just ran out of time.