Corner Canyon football completes perfect season as state champs
Dec 14, 2018 11:19AM
● By Catherine Garrett
Corner Canyon football players surround the 5A state championship they claimed with a 31-14 win over Skyridge Nov. 16. (Angela Strong/AStrongPhotography)
By Catherine Garrett | [email protected]
Whether or not the Corner Canyon High football team wanted to make a statement following a one-point semifinal loss to Skyridge in last year’s 5A state playoffs, the numbers this time around speak for themselves.
Following a perfect regular season through eight games, the Chargers blew out opponents 142-24 in the first three playoff games, culminating in a 31-14 win over Skyridge in the title game Nov. 16 at Rice Eccles Stadium.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” fullback Caden Johnson said. “It was something I’d been dreaming about ever since I was 8 years old, so to see that dream finally come true was amazing. We made some great memories throughout the season but nothing beats that feeling.”
Defensive back John Scheffner said it was “amazing” to watch the clock wind down and realize that Corner Canyon had won the state championship. “The feeling you have when the game is over and you to get celebrate with your team and your coaches is a pretty special feeling,” he said. “It’s a feeling you won’t get that often in life so I’m grateful I got it.”
Coach Eric Kjar, in his second year heading up the Chargers program, said last year’s disappointment and experience benefited his team this year. “Being in the program another year made a big difference with our success this year,” he said. “I’m just so thrilled for these guys to have won it this time around.”
In its first playoff game, the Chargers dominated Murray 70-3 Oct. 27, blowing out the Spartans with 56 first-half points. Austin Bell had three touchdowns — two rushing and one receiving — while John Mitchell (two) Johnson (one), Dylan Simons (one), Cole Hagen (one) and Talmage Handley (one) also scored. Hagen was 15 for 23 for 395 yards with four TD passes, with two of those tosses to Mitchell, who recorded four receptions for 187 yards. Defensively, the Chargers held Murray to 31 yards total offense, led by Van Fillinger’s seven tackles, Max Swensen’s five tackles and a sack and Josh Wilson’s four tackles and an interception.
In the quarterfinals against Viewmont Nov. 2, the score was 52-0 before the Vikings scored with 35 seconds left in the game, making the final winning margin 52-6. Johnson had a 95-yard kick return for a TD while also scoring from 15 yards out. Bell rushed for two more TDs while Noah Kjar caught two scoring receptions. Hagen also added a five-yard TD run and Carson Compton connected on a 24-yard field goal. Kennan Aiono led the defense with eight tackles while Johnson had seven.
Against Olympus in the semifinals, Corner Canyon won 20-15 Nov. 9. The Chargers came back from being down after the first three quarters to score with just under two minutes left in the game on a one-yard run by Johnson to take the lead and win the game.
Hagen was 15 of 21 for 220 yards with one TD and three interceptions. Mitchell caught eight passes for 130 yards, including a touchdown reception. Swensen recorded 12 tackles and Fillinger had 11 to lead defensively.
“That was a really good test for us,” Coach Kjar said. “It kind of made our kids realize that we had to step it up. So, that last week of practice was super focused and we came into the championship really charged up and ready to play.”
In the 5A title game, Compton’s 34-yard field goal in the first quarter got the scoring started and the Chargers had a 10-7 halftime lead after Noah Kjar hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Hagen.
Two third-quarter scores — a 25-yard TD reception by Mitchell and an 11-yard TD pass to Bell — stretched Corner Canyon’s lead before a late touchdown by Skyridge kept the Falcons in striking distance. Noah Kjar’s 18-yard TD reception with six minutes to go in the game put the Chargers up by the final margin of 17 points.
Hagen threw four TD passes with Mitchell nearly recording a 100-yard receiving game of five catches for 98 yards and one TD and two of Noah Kjar’s three catches going for scores. Wilson had 10 tackles to lead the defense.
“We just wanted it more than everyone else,” Johnson said. “We worked so hard in the offseason because we knew that we were so close last year but just came up short. We worked hard to prepare for those moments so when they came we’d be ready. And we were. So, it felt great to see all our hard work pay off.”
Scheffner also noted a key to the team’s ultimate success this season was trusting their coaches. “We knew that whatever they said would work and we didn’t question it,” he said.
This season’s Corner Canyon squad was a bit of a family affair with seven sets of brothers playing — Cooper and Mason Burden, Luke and Ryan Cahoon, JT and Brody Cutrer, Cole and Cody Hagen, Brett and Scott Iverson, Dalton and Austin McCabe, and Josh and Micah Wilson — in addition to the father-son connection between Coach Kjar and Noah, a sophomore wide receiver.
Coach Kjar said he tries not to get too emotional with his son, but enjoyed a nice moment with him following the state championship win. “That was a pretty special hug and pretty emotional for me,” he said. “I haven’t coached Noah much until high school and I see how hard he works and was just so happy for him.”
Coach Kjar was also surrounding by his family following the game. “They’re really supportive and they are always behind me even when I’m not around as much for some of their sports and activities,” he said. “They’re really good about it and they love Fridays.”
Johnson said the team bond this season felt like a big family. “This team was special because of how hard everyone worked and because of how much all of us as teammates loved each other and would do anything for each other,” he said. “We played for each other as well as all of the seniors from last year and all the other classes that came before us and set the foundation to get to where we are today.”
Coach Kjar said that while he loses 13 seniors from this year’s squad, he returns several key players, including Hagen, Fillinger and Wilson. “We will miss our seniors but it will be nice to have a lot of kids back who played some pretty big roles for us this year and did a great job,” he said.