Kragthorpe: Jordan beats ex-teammate in 5A semifinals

Prep football • QB Gajkowski, Lone Peak fall short in attempt to repeat title.
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When another Class 5A semifinal football game ended in defeat for Baron Gajkowski, the Lone Peak quarterback slowly made his way through the line of his former Jordan teammates. Some barely acknowledged him; others hugged him tightly.

The distance of those 18 miles stretching around Point of the Mountain, separating the towns of Sandy and Highland, never seemed greater than Thursday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. This playoff contest was wonderfully scripted, allowing for the ending to write itself: Jordan 35, Lone Peak 14.

Not that the stars seemed particularly interested in playing along with the whole theme.

Just another game, Gajkowski kept saying afterward.

Just another opponent, Jordan quarterback/safety Austin Kafentzis kept insisting.

They were partly right. The reason for Gajkowski's persistent tears and Kafentzis' relentless smiles had everything to do with the opportunity to play for a state championship next week. As Kafentzis said, the contest went beyond, "Oh, we're playing Baron."

Yet the embraces of Gajkowski from Jordan players including Tyler Swan, Mori Savini and Zach Larsen said more about the emotional nature of this reunion than the efforts of the quarterbacks to downplay it.

Thanks to whatever coincidental or cosmic factors came into play, their statistics were stunningly even. Sacked by Swan on Lone Peak's final offensive play, Gajkowski finished with 332 yards of passing and running to Kafentzis' 333 total yards.

"I'm way happy," Kafentzis said. "I couldn't have done it myself, though."

So Kafentzis and the Beetdiggers will play once more in his sophomore season, meeting Syracuse in Jordan's first title shot since 1998. Gajkowski and the Knights have concluded his junior season, short of the chance to repeat the championship that quarterback Chase Hansen claimed last November.

Either way, this would be a great story. Here was Kafentzis, back at Rice-Eccles, where he broke his collarbone in the second quarter of Jordan's 45-41 semifinal loss to Lone Peak.

And here was Gajkowski, who replaced Kafentzis that day and nearly matched Hansen's production, before moving to Lone Peak expressly to fill the QB vacancy, even inheriting Hansen's old No. 15.

The quarterbacks handled the big stage nicely. Kafentzis passed for 206 yards and ran for 127 yards. Gajkowski passed for 263 yards and ran for 69 yards, with sacks subtracted.

Kafentzis simply had more help, with running back Clay Moss contributing 115 yards and three touchdowns and a defense led by Swan and Savini holding Lone Peak to 14 points.

In the end, after Lone Peak's three second-half drives ended with fourth-down stops, teammate Austin McChesney encouraged Gajkowski to come back and win a title next year. But he was thinking only about not having fulfilled the 2012 team's goals. He knelt with his head down and senior receiver Talon Shumway's arm around his shoulder the entire time, while Lone Peak's coaches congratulated the players in a postgame huddle.

Later, two cheerleaders handed Gajkowski a gift sack, and he tucked it into his equipment bag and trudged up the ramp to the bus.

Remembering the words of Hansen in a recent speech to the Knights, Gajkowski expressed pride in his teammates. "The best part of football is just going out and playing with your boys," he said. "I'm so proud of how we supported each other the whole year. We never got down on each other. … We played like a family. I'm proud of that."

Reminded of how those Jordan players were so supportive in the handshake line, Gajkowski said, "They're good kids. I love 'em. They're nice. But I'm a Knight. I'm a Knight."

Twitter: @tribkurt