Canyon Harper was sure he cost his team a state championship.
But seconds later, the freshman redeemed himself and sealed Salmon River’s 22-20 victory over Deary in the 1A Division II state football championship Saturday at the Kibbie Dome.
Facing 4th-and-7 with 1:57 left on the clock, Harper got too antsy and drew a false start penalty. But Salmon River stuck with the 5-11 freshman, dialing up a play for him on 4th-and-12.
And he proved his coach right, hauling in a 19-yard catch on a deep in, allowing Salmon River (10-1) to run out the clock on its third title in four years, and its fifth in the past nine years.
“Canyon, being a freshman in that kind of situation, caught it like a veteran,” Salmon River coach Charlie Shepherd said. “It was just an incredible play. It’s the kind of play that wins state championship games.”
Harper’s catch was the second fourth-down conversion on the drive that allowed Salmon River to hang on. Trailing by 10, Deary (11-1) took advantage of a bad snap that led to a Salmon River safety to start the fourth quarter, and Tyler Anderson pounded in a 3-yard TD run with 9:26 left to cut the deficit to two.
But Salmon River received the ensuing kick and bled the rest of the clock on a 16-play, 65-yard drive to secure another title.
“It’s just great,” Harper said. “I grew up as a kid watching Leighton (Vander Esch) and all those guys play, and that was pretty awesome. It’s always been my dream to win state.”
Devin Buys led Salmon River on the ground, running for 98 yards on 18 carries. Rylie Travis added 78 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. And Tucker Boyd completed 4-of-5 passes for 57 yards and a TD.
Boyd also ran in a two-point conversion in the first quarter, the only successful two-point conversion for either team.
Shepherd said after the game he had a hard time believing Salmon River earned another title after starting freshmen on both sides of the both and relying on a pair of linemen who never played football before this season.
“It’s surreal,” Shepherd said. “I still can’t quite believe it myself because the odds were so stocked against us at the start of the season. … It’s absolutely incredible what these kids accomplished.”