SALT LAKE CITY — A little bit of magic seemed to be with Judge Memorial in the final minutes against two-time defending 3A champion Juan Diego.
The Bulldogs mounted their first scoring drive late in the fourth quarter to force overtime and kept their first possession of overtime alive with a double-pitch from James Delacenserie to Christian Weidle and from Weidle to Daniel Shiramizu to set up a 25-yard field goal attempt by Pat Gibbs.
Unfortunately for Judge, that luck ran dry too soon. Jeff Ika blocked Gibbs' field goal and the Soaring Eagles came through with a game-winning 10-yard pass from Brock Garn to Eric Heinz to clinch a 13-7 3A semifinal victory on Friday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
For Bulldogs' coach James Cordova, the late-game heroics were a case of doing too little, too late.
"We didn't do enough during the game to give ourselves an opportunity to win," Cordova said. "We really struggled offensively the entire game. We made some major mistakes. You can't do that against a good football team, and they're a hell of a football team."
Judge managed just 206 yards of total offense — 86 yards came through the air — with 59 of those coming on the Bulldogs' lone scoring drive. They converted only 1-of-10 third downs.
Defensive play was a different story entirely. The Bulldogs kept Juan Diego from running away with the game simply because they stopped the Soaring Eagles from running, period.
Juan Diego managed just 167 yards on 52 carries. Gaining only 3.2 yards per attempt forced the Soaring Eagles to go to the air at different times in an effort to move the chains.
"They defended us really well, no doubt," Soaring Eagle coach John Colosimo said. "It was a great defensive effort by them. Good game plan. They just took away everything we like to do."
Judge also excelled at making big stops to halt potential scoring drives.
The Bulldogs blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt by Skyler Doran to prevent Juan Diego from taking a 10-point halftime lead. Then, in the third quarter, the Soaring Eagle reached the Judge 1-yard line, only to see the drive end when Shiramizu picked off a pass by Garn at the 2.
Colosimo said Judge did a good job of exposing shortcomings in Juan Diego's offense, and he felt displeased with his team's inability to finish drives.
"My frustration is that we left points on the field more than anything else," Colosimo said. "I knew we weren't going to be great offensively. But, obviously we were (good) enough."
Cordova credited his defense with coming through with clutch plays to keep the Bulldogs in the game.
"Our defense has been solid all season," Cordova said. "They've really done an outstanding job. They're tough football players."
It was not the storybook ending Judge anticipated writing after beating the odds just to make it this far in the 3A tournament.
The Bulldogs needed to win a play-in game against Grantsville and then knocked off higher seeds Cedar and Wasatch on the road over consecutive weekends in order to just make it to Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Cordova said it was a testament to his players and their drive to finish the season out on as high a note as possible.
"They fought and they never quit," Cordova said. "We had the toughest road of anybody I think ever to make it this far. I don't know of anybody else that's done this."
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