You know how they say major setbacks build character? Hurricane (Utah) High is getting extremely tired of building character in state championship games against Juan Diego Catholic (Utah) High. For the third straight season, the two schools matched up to decide the Utah Class 3A state title. For the third straight year, Hurricane was seconds from forcing overtime or celebrating a monumental state title when Juan Diego came through with a game-winning play.
What all of this means is that for a third straight year, Hurricane is forced to head into an offseason desperately searching for answers on why its dominant football program -- the Tigers are 35-7 from 2008 through Friday's 10-7 loss to Juan Diego -- can't find a way to close out a win against one team with everything on the line.
As a matter of painful review, here's exactly how Juan Diego has turned one of the most intimidatingly named schools in the country into the closest thing Utah football has to the Buffalo Bills, with more excruciating pain. If you happen to be a Hurricane fan, now is the time to stop reading:
• In 2008, Hurricane used a dramatic fourth-quarter drive to tie the game on a 4-yard run and two-point conversion by Gordy Dotson with just 51 seconds left. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that was just enough time for Juan Diego to cruise down the field and set up a championship-winning 23-yard field goal with only four seconds left to seal the Soaring Eagle's first state title in school history.
• In 2009, Hurricane and Juan Diego locked horns in a defensive battle that the Tigers finally seemed poised to win when they put together an impressive 68-yard drive to score their first touchdown of the game for a 10-6 lead with just 46 seconds remaining. Then, on the final play of both teams' seasons, Juan Diego quarterback Cody Stevenson connected with Bruce Nix from 31 yards out as time expired, giving the Soaring Eagle a 12-10 win and back-to-back state titles. You can see the miracle Hail Mary below.
• On Friday, senior kicker Cory Edwards missed two field goals in the third quarter that would have broken a 7-7 tie and perhaps finally put Hurricane in control of its own destiny. Instead, Edwards' misses set the stage for a 7:10 drive that led to Moran's title-winning, 20-yard field goal.
Here's what Hurricane defensive lineman Daniel Nielsen told the Deseret News after Juan Diego kicker Skyler Moran's game-winning field goal ensured he would conclude his decorated high school career without a state title.
"We definitely missed a lot of chances," senior defensive lineman Daniel Nielsen said. "We stalled out on several drives and we didn't capitalize on things when we should've. We definitely thought we were the better team."
Compare that with what the lineman told the paper a year earlier, and the parallel feelings about his own senior class and the one that immediately preceded it are eerie.
"These seniors are an amazing class, and I really think they should've had this," said defensive lineman Daniel Nielsen. "They worked their hearts for it."
Bad luck? Maybe. Under a hex by Juan Diego coach John Colosimo? Possibly. Whatever has been keeping that elusive title out of Hurricane's hands for three years on the trot, it's hard not to shake your head and wonder what might have been along with Tigers coach Chris Homer.
"I thought [the Hurricane players] fought their guts out," Homer told the Deseret News in 2009. "[Juan Diego] made one more play [than] we did."
Actually, across three years they've made three, and unfortunately for the Tigers, all three of those plays were worth a lot.
- Juan Diego