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LEHI — In the second quarter of Skyridge’s home football opener against 5A power Timpview, the Falcons could’ve been mistaken at times with a team led by a first-year head coach, a transfer quarterback in his first start on campus, and a modified offense than the one that led them to a dominant 6A state championship a year ago.
Which, to be fair, was all true.
But the top-ranked Falcons didn’t make any excuses after halftime, pitching a second-half shutout en route to a 26-14 win Friday night in the KSL.com Sports Game of the Week.
New quarterback Jackson Stevens threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns, and Carter Sheffield ran for 94 of the Falcons’ 165 yards — most of them in the second half — and a score to lead Skyridge to a 1-0 start to the Justin Hemm era.
“We came out with some enthusiasm and energy, and just started playing Skyridge football in the second half,” said Hemm, who was an assistant under now-athletic director Jon Lehman on last year’s 6A championship squad. “We wanted to establish the run, we wanted to set the tone defensively, and I thought in all three phases these guys came out and executed.”
After a promising start that included Stevens’ 9-yard touchdown strike to La’akea Kalama, Skyridge’s offense sputtered on consecutive trips in the red zone that resuled in a pair of field goals by Blake Hesler from a combined 73 yards.
Quezon Villa helped the Thunderbirds (0-1) take control in the first half, catching 10 passes from sophomore quarterback Helaman Casuga for 96 yards, and Paka Haunga capped off a long scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with four minutes left in the half to take a 14-13 halftime edge.
Casuga connected on 19-of-29 passes in the first half for 202 yards for the Thunderbirds, who limited the Falcons to just 24 yards on the ground before the break.
Stevens threw for 158 yards in the first half, including a 9-yard touchdown to La’akea Kalama to open the scoring. The transfer who threw for over 3,200 yards and 24 touchdowns last season for the Darts started strong, but his offense slowed in the second quarter.
It took a senior team captain to reignite it.
The Falcons flipped the script with a steady diet of Sheffield to estabish the run game, control the clock and keep Timpview’s defense off balance in the second-half shutout.
Sheffield wasn’t flashy; the 6-foot, 210-pound team captain had more runs of 3-6 yards than the 28-yard burst that preceded his 5-yard touchdown run with 6:44 left in the third quarter.
But that was all the Falcons needed.
“If we can take 4-5 yards per play, we’ll take it,” Sheffield said. “We just wanted to assert our dominance. The O-line did a great job of that, and we executed the game plan really well the second half. And the defense stepped up great.”
Hemm gave the credit to the big boys up front, but also Sheffield for softening up the Timpview’s defensive front.
“He gashed and he hit someone with a few runs,” he said. “But what he did was he kept us ahead of the chains, so instead of second-and-10 or second-and-9, we were dealing with second-and-6. As long as we’re in those situations, that’s good for us and the playbook is open. We can do anything we want. The line set the tone, and Carter ran extremely hard.”
Stevens capped off the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jack Burke with 7:51 remaining, pulling the Timpview defense inside the 1-yard line before rolling out and finding Burke in the southeast corner of the end zone for the final margin.
All that was left was one last defensive stand, courtesy of Deshawn Toilolo. The junior linebacker picked off Casuga at the 4-yard line with 1:31 remaining to seal not just the win, but the post-halftime clean sheet.
Casuga threw for 202 of his 297 yards in the first half, connecting on 28-of-47 attempts, and Villa finished with 109 receiving yards to lead the Thunderbirds.