September 10, 2021 - 9:53 pm
Most football coaches would consider themselves lucky to get one or two big breaks during a game. Desert Pines coach Tico Rodriguez got eight of them Friday night, and his team cashed in with a 53-42 victory over Orem (Utah) in the Polynesian Football Classic at Bishop Gorman High School.
The Jaguars forced six turnovers — four fumbles and two interceptions — and also recovered two of their own squib kickoffs to turn the game’s momentum after the Tigers dominated the opening minutes.
The offense didn’t waste the extra opportunities, as Desert Pines quarterback Rjay Tagataese threw for 309 yards and six touchdowns.
“We needed all eight of those breaks,” Rodriguez said. “That team was big and physical, and some of these young guys on our team haven’t seen that. It showed us we’ve got to get stronger.”
Orem, Utah’s four-time defending Class 5A state champion, moved the ball almost at will from the beginning, capping a seven-play, 72-yard opening drive with a 50-yard touchdown run by Mack Hixon to go ahead 7-0.
The Jaguars (2-0) answered with a 49-yard pass from Tagataese to Jett Solomon to tie the score a minute later, but it was clear that Orem remained in control when the Tigers used 10 plays to move the ball deep into Desert Pines territory.
That’s when things began to unravel.
Tigers quarterback Chase Tuatagaloa fumbled a snap at the Jaguars 5-yard line, the first of two Orem turnovers inside the 10.
Orem (3-2) fumbled again minutes later, and Desert Pines capitalized by scoring on a 66-yard pass from Tagataese to Lavon Brown to put the Jaguars ahead 21-7 early in the second quarter.
“That gave us a much-needed break,” Rodriguez said. “I saw our guys running down. They were just nickel-and-diming us, so it was perfect timing.”
Another Tigers fumble resulted in the second of three TD passes from Tagataese to Solomon on the next possession, and the Jaguars took a 41-21 halftime lead.
Rodriguez thought his team’s heat conditioning played a role.
“It really helped us get those turnovers,” he said. “Most of their guys played both ways, and they were tired.”
The Tigers were not too tired to rack up 615 yards compared with 395 for Desert Pines, and they cut their deficit to 41-28 on another Tuatagaloa TD pass midway through the third quarter.
They followed with a drive that ended with a fumble at the goal line. The Jaguars, who cashed in all but two of the turnovers for touchdowns, recovered and scored seven plays later when Brown hauled in an 80-yard pass from Tagataese to make the score 47-28.
Tuatagaloa’s second interception allowed Desert Pines to seal the win with another Tagataese TD pass moments later.
Tagataese completed 16 of 24 passes. Brown finished with three receptions for 151 yards, and Solomon had 100 yards and three TDs on six receptions.