MILLVILLE — The Utah class 4A playoffs opened this weekend, and Ridgeline High School convincingly earned a win against Hurricane in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
The 14th-seeded Riverhawks won 48-13, with 41 points coming before halftime. Ridgeline (4-7) moves on to face third-seeded Dixie (7-2) at St. George on Friday.
The opening kickoff set the tempo for what was about to come, with the Riverhawks running it back into Hurricane (1-9) territory and down to the 38-yard line. Just three plays later the hosts were able to find the end zone through a 15-yard pass from Kaden Cox to Jovesa Damuni — the first of two touchdowns for the junior running back.
Hurricane was quickly forced into a three-and-out on its first possession. Thanks to good field position, Ridgeline was able to put a second touchdown on the board just a few plays later. A 2-yard run from Cameron Bott made the score 14-0.
To Hurricane’s credit, the Tigers were able to make a few big plays and get back into the contest before the end of the first quarter. A 70-yard touchdown run by Luke Wright gave the visitors new life heading into the second quarter down just 14-6.
Unfortunately, as much as they scratched and clawed, Hurricane didn’t have enough quality on the day offensively and were held scoreless until late in the third quarter. A lot of the struggles they faced were due to constant pressure and tenacity from Ridgeline’s defense, most notably, the front seven.
“We definitely wanted to get after them early on, we wanted to mix up some of the stuff defensively we were doing as well, we put in a couple new packages moving forward,” Ridgeline head coach Travis Van Leeuwen said. “We knew that if we could get after them, we could really disrupt their offense, which would help us as a whole.”
The final play of the first half summarized this beautifully. Hurricane was set up in the red zone and looked poised to score a touchdown, but due to Ridgeline’s aggressive blitz, quarterback Brock Starley scrambled wildly. This caused a forced pass that was tipped and intercepted by Kade Hansen, who took the pick almost effortlessly 90 yards and into the end zone.
Ridgeline found itself with the ball for the majority of the first half, and made the most of the situation by putting up six touchdowns. Cox threw three of his four touchdowns in the half, two of which were thrown to receiver Evan Webb in the second quarter. It seemed there was almost nothing Hurricane could do to limit the offense of Ridgeline and had a hard time getting any pressure on Cox, which gave him ample time to throw the ball and make clean reads. In addition, Damuni had another great day running the ball, adding to his 716 total yards on the season with another good performance.
“Offense is one of those sides of the ball that you need all 11 guys to execute at a high-level consistently to have success, and you know I feel like they did a really great job today at doing that,” Van Leeuwen said. “We did a good job at creating explosive plays as well, big plays downfield, which flipped field position and puts you in a position to score quick.”
The final touchdown of the game for the Riverhawks came midway through the third quarter after forcing a fumble on another well-executed blitz. Damuni broke a 42-yard run on the first play of the drive and almost took it across the goal line, but was brought down at the 3-yard line. The following play was an easy pass and catch from Cox to tight end Cameron Dahle, giving Ridgeline a 48-6 lead.
Cox has had some struggles throwing the ball effectively this season. Coming into the game he’d thrown 10 touchdowns, but also had 13 interceptions. A four-touchdown performance was somewhat surprising for the young quarterback, especially in the conditions. The wind in Millville was reaching gust speeds of 20 miles an hour, making every throw more than a few yards down the field increasingly more difficult.
“It does, it does, It definitely makes it tricky,” Van Leeuwen said. “Whenever it’s windy like this, we try to practice throwing in the wind and throwing against it, but once the wind really started picking up, it really made it difficult to throw the football.”
The new RPI format being used this season means that even in a losing season, schools like Ridgeline have a chance to make a deep playoff run. Next up, a matchup with a Dixie team that’s a top-three seed and is currently 4-0 at home this season. Nevertheless, Van Leeuwen and his coaching staff embrace the challenge.
“Hey, we’re in a playoff game and facing a great opponent in Dixie,” he said. “So we’re really excited for the opportunity ahead of us and we’re going to have a great week of work, and we’ll see how the result goes.”