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The City Journals

Cougars almost break school record, advance to state quarterfinals

Nov 19, 2019 02:17PM ● By Greg James

Kearns’ 10 wins this season fell one short of setting an all-time school record. (Greg James/City Journals)

By Greg James | [email protected] 

The last time Kearns High School played football in a semifinals game was 1993. This season they sat on the doorstep of breaking a school record for wins.

“Thank you to all of you K Town Cougar fans, students, community, faculty and staff—the stadium was roaring,” Cougars head coach Matt Rickards said. “You never know what can transpire. We are focused on each week. We have focused on each game. We are getting better but not quite where we need to be as a team.” 

The Cougars nearly made school history. An 11th win in a season would have been the most in its 54-year history. Its two football state championships, 1972 and 1989, came in seasons with fewer games, but this year's season came to an end with a 37-19 quarterfinals loss to Lone Peak.

The Cougars run included only one regular season loss, to Riverton 32-26 on Sept. 13. In the back-and-forth affair, Riverton captured the lead with approximately four minutes remaining and held on for the win.

In the Utah High School Activities Association newly designed rating performance index, the Cougars finished the season ranked fifth and earned a first-round bye in the state tournament. 

The RPI critics ridiculed the final season rankings. Lone Peak was forced to forfeit several games because of an ineligible player. The rankings produced by win percentage were affected and a powerful Knights team ended up seeded 20th. 

Jon Oglesby, UHSAA assistant director, said reception of the new RPI was “positive overall.” But he acknowledged others have been critical of it for “various reasons.”

“There is not much we can do about that but focus on the games we play,” Rickards said.

Despite the uproar over seeding, Kearns decidedly won Region 2. The Cougars finished 6-0 in its region games, defeating Hunter, Cyprus, Taylorsville, West, Granger and West Jordan.

Senior quarterback Dakota Lynde completed 59% of his passes for 1,956 yards. His favorite targets included juniors Jack Kelly, Jeffrey Bassa and senior Austin Perry. They combined for 56 receptions and nine touchdowns.

“We have numerous guys that could play at the next level,” Rickards said. Some have offers already. In our season, we have done well at establishing the run game and being efficient in the passing game. I think defensively we need to get better at tackling.”

Sophomore Naki Leha led the team in rushing with 1,386 yards and 20 touchdowns. 

Perry and senior Isiah Afatasi led a defense that allowed 19.5 points per game. Only Bingham and East allowed fewer points per game among class 6A teams. 

“We love our boys,” became the most liked Facebook post on the Kearns Metro Facebook page during the season. The supportive community filled the stands of each of the home playoff games. 

In the first round, Kearns defeated Hunter 31-14.

The Cougars had won 10 games in a season twice before, 1989 and 1993. They are 43-15 since 2015. They also advanced to the quarterfinals in 2018 and lost to Bingham 46-0. 

Earlier this year the Cougars lost a recent alum in a shooting, and another former player was injured in a trampoline accident. The team dedicated this season to Neko Jardine who was killed. They wore neeks#44ever in his honor on the back of their helmets. 

“One thing our guys have learned is how to deal with adversity,” Rickards said. “That is the backbone of what we teach, how to react when things happen in life. Unfortunately, we have had two major events that have happened that are outside of our control. It also lets them know that life is precious. We have learned to win the day. It sounds cliché.”