On Tuesday, Maple Mountain (Utah) earned the first football playoff berth in school history. While that was a landmark moment on its own, the team's season to that point made the accomplishment virtually unbelievable: Maple Mountain had not won a game -- ever -- until Oct. 8.
That's right, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, Maple Mountain, a second-year school, was 0-for-school history before the Golden Eagles' 33-7 win over Uintah earlier this month broke a 16-game losing streak. The team was then able to scratch out one more win -- a 47-7 victory over Ogden the following week -- before dropping a game against Spanish Fork to wrap up the regular season at 2-8.
While a 2-8 record might seem like an impossible prospect for a playoff team, it isn't in Utah, where only conference records are factored in to playoff considerations and a bizarre format for breaking three-way ties is used. When three teams finish with the same conference records, those three face off in a series of one-half sudden-death contests. A first-game bye is determined by coin flip, and the other two teams face off, with the winner taking on the third team in a winner-take-all contest for a playoff berth.
That's the scenario that faced Maple Mountain on Tuesday, with the Golden Eagles first facing off against Salem Hills. Maple Mountain edged out a 7-6 victory, earning a final one-half re-match with Uintah with the playoffs on the line.
Even given the Golden Eagles' earlier victory over Uintah, it was easy to see them as underdogs. Uintah actually had more regular-season victories than Maple Mountain, and the Eagles had just played one half of nail-biting elimination football to even earn the Uintah rematch.
Yet some 24 minutes later, Maple Mountain was celebrating an abbreviated 24-6 win and a shocking first bid to the football playoffs.
"When we came out, we knew we had something to play for," Maple Mountain quarterback Tyson Jex told the Tribune. "First time the school's ever been in that position, so it's a great feeling."
His coach indicated that as strange as the scenario facing the team was, the school's brief history made it easier for his players to believe they were on the verge of the playoffs.
"They're just learning how to win ball games," Maple Mountain coach Brad Burtenshaw told the Tribune. "How much work it takes."