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Kearns • Holding on to a 21-14 lead, the Granger offense found itself backed up to its own eight yard line as the clock ticked down to the five minute mark on Friday night.
The Lancers may not have fully appreciated it until later, but the visitors were in dire need of a big play in a high school football game against Kearns.
And they got it when senior running back Amata Tavai burst through the line and sailed into the clear.
Earlier, Tavai had been bruising in gaining much-needed ground in short yardage situation. This time, no one was even close to touching him for awhile. By the time Tavai reached midfield, the pursuing Cougars were closing fast and, when finally tackled at the Kearns' 22, he was clearly out of gas.
But that was fine with Granger coach Mike Morgan as the Lancers used a subsequent two-yard TD run by Sione Houma to move the margin to two touchdowns and eventually earned a hard-fought 28-21 victory.
"The best I've ever coached," said Morgan, noting that Tavai also is a full-time defensive player. "Both of those kids [Tavai and Houma], they're the two best backs I've ever coached."
Tavai, who also blocked a field goal attempt late in the third quarter, finished with 178 yards while Houma accumulated 94 yards as Granger went to 2-0 to start its schedule.
"We both run North-South, try to get the runs, try to get the first downs," said Houma, who also is a starting safety for the Lancers.
After Tavai blocked a 21-yard field goal attempt to keep the score at 13-7, Granger proceeded to go 90 yards with the aid of personal foul and pass interference penalties on Kearns (1-1) to go up 21-7 after a one-yard sneak by quarterback Sidney Alofipo. The drive ate up almost seven minutes on the clock.
"We call it grit-and-grind and we're hoping to wear them out, to be honest with you," Morgan said.
"They're a very good team. You know, they're not the Granger of old," Kearns coach Matt Rickards said. "They're the real deal, legit, and they're going to win a lot of games this year."
Kearns, which got 73 yards of rushing from running back Sese Felilia and 155 through the passing of quarterback John Bass, twice close the gap to a single possession in the fourth quarter.
The last time came on a fourth-down play with 1:52 on the clock, when Bass found Marcel Barcelon open for a reception and Barcelon then rambled 55 yards for a touchdown.
But, on the ensuing onsides kick attempt, Granger got control of the ball. The Lancers fumbled on the first two plays of its last possession, but managed to recover those as well - part of five recovered fumbles on the night for the Lancers.
"We knew it was going to be a very physical battle up front and they just had the ball a lot longer than we did," Rickards said. "Our defense couldn't get them off the field to get our offense on. That's what it really came down to and also missed opportunities."
• Granger got 178 yards rushing from Amata Tavai and 94 more from Sione Houma in going 2-0 to start the season.
• Kearns twice cut a two-possession game down to one in the fourth quarter, the last on a 55-yard scoring pass from John Bass to Marcel Barcelon.
• The visiting Lancers played with fire successfully, recovering all five of their fumbles on the night.