Kearns • Kearns High football coach Bill Cosper issued challenges to his team before, during and after Wednesday's region finale against Granger.
The Cougars have already answered some of them.
James Felila rushed for 256 yards and five touchdowns and the Cougars gained 632 total yards in a 49-34 victory over the visiting Lancers. The win ensured Kearns the No. 2 playoff seed from Region 2, while Granger gets No. 3.
"Coach challenged us to come out in the second half and execute what we're taught to do," said Felila, who had gained 200 total yards just 15 minutes into the game. "I just tried to play for the team and get a first down."
Kearns will open the playoffs at home against either Davis or Layton. Those teams are scheduled to play a Region 1 play-in game on Tuesday.
Felila and the Cougars (4-1 region, 5-5 overall) gained heapings of first downs throughout the game. However, the lead didn't appear safe until midway through the fourth quarter. Kearns led 28-21 at halftime and came out with a three-and-out stop on defense. Felila's fourth touchdown on the Cougars' first possession of the second half gave Kearns the breathing room it needed.
The teams had combined for 42 points in the second quarter alone, and totaled 668 yards of total offense by halftime. Touchdowns were scored on the first six possessions of the second quarter, three by each team.
"I challenged them to step forward and they played their hearts out," Cosper said of his team. "Our challenge coming out [in the second half] was to go three-and-out, score and take time off the clock. I also challenged our offensive line and told them they're the best in the state. Those guys up front go both ways."
The much-anticipated showdown between Felila and Granger's Tani Lehauli, two of the leading rushers in the state, never materialized. Lehauli was held to 44 yards rushing on 10 carries and caught a touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, Felila and his Cougar teammates kept fighting for every extra yard. Several times, Kearns players dragged Granger tacklers for more yards.
After allowing nearly 200 yards passing in the first half, Kearns' defense stiffened in the second half, allowing just 64 yards passing. The Lancers scored on passes covering 10, 56 and 62 yards in the first half.
"When they spread us out, we changed personnel," Cosper said. "They shouldn't have gotten those three touchdown plays. If we played they way we could have, we would not have given up those passing touchdowns."
Nonetheless, the Cougar offense seemed unstoppable. Along with Felila's running, Jordan Floyd threw for 272 yards on 14-of-23 passing. Floyd added 54 yards rushing while Daniel Tapusoa had a 45-yard scoring run.
James Elkins scored three touchdowns – two receiving, one rushing – in the loss for Granger (3-2, 7-3). The Lancers still have a chance to post eight victories in a season for the first time since 1997 with a playoff win against Northridge.