A special ride
but 4A title hopes ended early due to UHSAA ruling
By Bruce SmithMatchup
Every coach, player and fan has their own special memories of Herriman High School’s 2012 football season.
“It was a good year. We accomplished an awful lot,” said coach Larry Wilson. “I’ll remember the kids and the coaches. The games fade, the scenes fade, but you remember the kids and the coaches.”
About what everyone can agree on was that it ended too soon. The Mustangs finished with an 8-3 record. They won their first-ever region championship and had hopes of at least advancing to the semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The did with great athletes, led by Tueni Lupeamanu, Brandon Farmer, Ben Richard, Francis Bernard. The Mustangs also had speed, skills and depth. Until the playoffs, their only losses were a 23-22 overtime decision to Riverton and a 24-22 region defeat at Skyline.
They dominated the rest of their region opponents (winning by an average score of 46-11) and would have been heavy favorites in the first two rounds of the 4A state playoffs.
That would have put them at Rice-Eccles, home of the University of Utah. The Mustangs played there in Week 2, part of what was the “Black and Blue” Classic. Herriman took on Riverton in the matinee, followed by Alta and Bingham.
“The team just got better and better,” said Wilson. “We had at least two Division I offers and a handful of kids in the recruiting process. The strength of the team was depth and experience.”
They had the strong-armed Lupeamanu at quarterback, an impressive line and so much depth at running back that two were moved to other positions to give them more time on the field.
Herriman had 4-7 and 8-4 records in its first two years. Overall, not bad, but amazing for a new school. Wilson said the Mustangs had great talent from the start, accepting kids from the Herriman area as well as players who were not expecting to play at nearby schools like Riverton and Bingham.
Opponents looked at Herriman like a sleeping giant – ready to awaken at any time.
“With our success, and as we gradually build our record, people will realize we’re not just another team,” said senior Canyon Hansen. “We’re growing as a community as a whole. We’re getting more recognition.”
The recognition continued after Herriman finished tied for first place in Region 7, but won the coin flip to take the No. 1 seed. Unfortunately, their first-round opponent ended up being East, which could have been undefeated but was slapped with a penalty for using ineligible players.
The UHSAA’s decision, which allowed East to compete in the postseason but as a fourth seed, forced the Leopards to work harder but it also made life difficult for the Mustangs.
At Herriman, meetings were held, and feelings were debated behind closed doors. When they opened, only administrators really talked openly about it.
“We really didn’t pay much attention to East,” said Lupeamanu. “We would have had to play them at some point. It wasn’t the best time for us. They were the better team.”
If Herriman would have played East – or another team of its magnitude - in the semifinals, a victory could have put the Mustangs in the championship game. That’s what Herriman expected. But with the UHSAA’s questionable ruling, the road to the title had to go through East, Box Elder, eventual state champion Timpview and Mountain Crest.
A difficult route, for sure. A different UHSAA decision and Herriman would have played Highland (which it defeated 31-14 in Week 3) or 5-5 Cyprus in the first round.
“It’s hard to learn the lesson that sometimes life isn’t fair,” said Wilson. “It wasn’t about East. It was about a precedent being set. Timpview had to forfeit all of their games and Snow Canyon’s baseball team did the previous year. The real factor was that four of the top five teams ended up in the same bracket.”
History will show that, after a fine season, Herriman lost in the first round even though the team had higher aspirations. The Mustangs dominated the all-region squad and Lupemanu made first team all-state.
Unless you win it all, however … like coach Wilson said, the best memories are the relationships with your coaches and teammates. And, in that case, Herriman probably had no equal.
But it sure was an interesting ride.