SALT LAKE CITY — A high-powered offense, orchestrated by three-year standout starting quarterback Kaden Cox, was enough to make Ridgeline a nightmare matchup for opposing high school football teams this season.
That explosive offense, coupled with a stout, cohesive defense? Well, that essentially made the Riverhawks unbeatable in 2021.
That was once again Ridgeline’s recipe for success on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Riverhawks rolled to a 45-20 victory over Dixie in the title game of the 4A State Championship to cap off an impressive 13-0 season and become the only undefeated team in the Beehive State this fall.
“We’ve just been preparing for it all year, you know,” RHS defensive lineman Bridger Hammond said. “Waking up at 6 a.m. in the winter, just getting it done, getting stronger. We’re an undersized team. We’re fast, we’re smart and it just feels good to finally get it done. And our offense is amazing, so all we have to do is stop (the other team) a couple of times to win.”
Ridgeline’s defense has been overshadowed by its dynamic offense this season, but certainly played an integral role in the program’s first-ever state title. After all, the Riverhawks ranked first in the 4A ranks in scoring offense (45.2 points per game), scoring defense (14.3 ppg) and scoring margin (30.9 ppg).
The Riverhawks limited 11 of their 13 opponents to 20 or fewer points, including five to single digits. The Flyers (9-4) averaged 45.75 points in their previous four games, but were unable to remotely approach that production Friday. Crimson Cliffs was the only 4A program to limit Dixie to fewer points than Ridgeline in ‘21.
“We’ve always been a bend but don’t break team, so I think that’s been the story of this season too,” RHS linebacker Will Booth said. “You know, teams have driven (the ball) on us. It’s just the reality of it, so we’ve had to buckle down and stop people in the red zone, and we did.”
Even though they gave up some big plays and lengthy drives here and there, the Riverhawks didn’t allow more than 30 points in a contest until their 49-34 triumph over Crimson Cliffs in the semifinals. To its credit, Ridgeline held Crimson Cliffs to just seven points after halftime.
“Crimson Cliffs, it was a little bit shaky,” Booth said. “We were tested, but that was good for us for this game, obviously. You know, everybody talks about the offense, but we just treat every game the same. We treated this game the exact same as any other game and we knew (Dixie) had a good offense, but they knew we had the tools to slow it down, and we did.”
Dixie had no answer for Ridgeline’s balanced offensive attack, which found paydirt on seven of its first eight possessions. Simply put, the Flyers needed to score points in bunches to hang with the Riverhawks, but that did not happen.
Instead, Dixie failed to pick up a first down on two of its first two series. The Flyers did have an impressive 64-yard reception in tight coverage, but the Riverhawks only gave up 87 yards on the other 25 Dixie plays in the opening half, which was instrumental in the Region 11 champions taking a commanding 25-6 halftime lead. Ridgeline outgained Dixie by a 361-151 clip in the opening half and enjoyed a 570-349 edge in total offense in the contest.
Booth came through with a pair of early tackles for loss to set the tone for Ridgeline defensively. Strat Simmons came up with a huge pass breakup in the end zone on a third-and-goal play in the second quarter, and the Riverhawks ended up getting a red zone stop on fourth down.
Once again, it was a balanced defensive effort from the Riverhawks, who had 11 different players contribute with three or more tackles. Linebacker Cameron Craney and defensive end Luke Sorenson led the way with eight tackles apiece, while Luke Jacobsen chipped in with six stops.
“We like to share the love, let Will and his guys, the linebackers come in and make play, and we just play as a team,” Hammond said. “It feels awesome.”
The lion’s share of Ridgeline key defensive performers are seniors, but a pair of juniors played extremely well Friday in Sorenson and cornerback Ashton Macfarlane. Sorenson also chipped in with a sack and two additional tackles for loss, while Macfarlane had four of his team’s seven pass breakups. Additionally, Macfarlane recovered a fumble and returned it 35 yards to terminate a promising Dixie drive in the third quarter.
“Last week I kind of had a rough week, so my coach, Ladale (Jackson), told me to step it up,” Macfarlane said. “I watched a lot of film and it felt good not to be the weak link for the week.”
“I’m done here, but it’s just awesome to see Ridgeline still has a future after (this senior class),” Hammond said. “We’ve had a lot of guys battle for positions this year, Luke Sorenson, all of them and it’s just awesome to see them play well.”
Macfarland’s fumble recovery essentially eradicated any chance of a Dixie comeback. Craney and Booth arrived at the Dixie ball carrier at the same time, and Craney was credited with dislodging the ball. Derek Gasaway also forced a fumble earlier in the game for the Riverhawks.
“I think it just kind of loosened up our defense,” Macfarlane said of his fumble recovery and return into Dixie territory. “We had that cushion from our offense and we just got rolling, we’re having fun. I think that’s what really set us off.”
Macfarlane was humbled to do his part in helping this phenomenal Ridgeline senior class make history. Hammond and Booth are two of eight Riverhawks seniors who have started since they were sophomores, along with Cox, Simmons, Noah White, Dillon May, Daimien Boehme and Alex Lundahl.
Those eight athletes took their lumps at times as sophomores as Ridgeline finished in last place in a loaded region. That just made the journey to the top of the mountain even more gratifying.
“The first time we ever played together was nine years ago and I think that’s really when it started,” Booth said. “You know, we went and won the Mini Bowl our eighth-grade year and I just feel like it’s been working up to this moment.”
Indeed, this is a special group of Ridgeline seniors — one head coach Travis Cox gushed about.
“Yeah, they’re super special to me,” he said. “I mean, obviously I have (my son) Kaden in that group and I’ve known those kids since they were really small. And to see it end this way is just such an amazing feeling and I’m just so proud of those kids and who they’ve become, and how it ended. You can’t write a better script.”