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The City Journals

An unfair ending but a great season for Kearns football

Dec 14, 2020 03:17PM ● By Greg James

The Kearns High School football season did not finish the way they had expected. (Photo courtesy of Natoya Chung,)

By Greg James |  [email protected] 

The Kearns High School football team’s season ended not with a loss but a forfeit. COVID-19 finished off a brilliant year for the Cougars.

“I’d like to say we dealt with the end of the season the best we could,” Cougars head coach Matt Rickards said. “I don’t think anyone has gone through anything like this before. It was a tough situation to go through, twice.”

Kearns was scheduled to play East in the second round of the state playoffs. After a few players had positive COVID tests, the team learned it would forfeit the game.

Discussions followed and a plan was set to test the remaining players. If all went well, the team could play. But the virus had spread through the team, and several players tested positive, canceling the playoff game—again. 

“Everyone is healthy; COVID is real,” Rickards said. “Most of the kids that tested positive had no idea they even had it. When we went to get tested before the game, nobody had symptoms. We felt confident that we were going to be able to play, and when results started coming in it was kind of shocking. I am not sure there was anything that we could have done differently to avoid the problem. We did everything we were asked to do. It somehow got into our program.”

East was declared the winner 1-0 and advanced in the tournament. Kearns was eliminated, and its season was over. The Cougar players and coaches experienced denial, anger and blame.

“I think it was a good thing we had two weeks of distance learning so the kids could have a chance to cope with the end,” Rickards said. “Lots of people don’t realize what the coaches and kids go through. It gives these kids purpose and direction to work for something. When that is taken away it is tough.” 

Like many sports during the pandemic, the team is ready to move on.

“Now the returners are ready to put this season behind us and get ready for next year,” Rickards said.

The Cougars finished the regular season ranked fifth in the Utah High School Activities Association’s rating performance index. They were co-Region 2 champions. It was their fourth region title in a row. They shared the title because of a 26-17 loss to the West Panthers on Oct. 9.

The loss to West was their only one of the entire season. Kearns’ game against Granger was canceled due to the pandemic. The Cougar defense allowed only 15.1 points per game, nearly four points less per outing than last year. 

Senior Charles “Scooter” Henderson snagged six interceptions to lead the backside of the defense. The defensive line had 28.5 sacks, led by junior Jj Talo with 5.5.

“Defensively, this is one of the best Kearns has had in 20 years,” Rickards said.

Jeffery Bassa has committed to continue his football career at the University of Oregon. He leads a contingent of players with post-high school opportunities. Jack Kelly and Naki Leha have offers from several Mountain West schools.

Leha carried the ball for 1,196 yards this season after amassing more than 1,400 last year. Bassa had 17 receptions and three touchdowns.  

“We had a great season,” Rickards said. “The thing people will remember is how it ended. We need to remember the good things. It was a great season; they performed and changed their lives. A senior told me that his life has changed. He was a troublemaker in junior high and he changed his viewpoint and is going to graduate from high school. Those are the things that are important. It gives me a perspective that every chance you get to play a game and live your life, take advantage of it. Every snap is a blessing. It has taught us that.”