MIDDLETON—At times, the twists and turns happened too quickly to keep count.
One minute, the Sugar-Salem High School football team seemed destined for certain victory after another defensive gem. The next, a bad bounce or head-scratching miscue threw the outcome back into question.
It took until the final horn, but the Diggers prevailed, toppling Homedale 30-22 in a wild 3A state championship game Saturday at Middleton High School.
The Diggers, who have state titles in nearly every other sport, claimed their first football state title in school history to conclude a 10-1 season. Playing in its first football state title game since 1988, Sugar-Salem ended the season with 10 consecutive wins.
“It was a heart-wrencher,” Sugar-Salem quarterback Tanner Harris said. “You have the feeling you’re doing good, and then it flips right around. But we just kept playing hard and ended up on top.”
Sugar-Salem forced five turnovers while adding a safety and a defensive touchdown. Fittingly, the Diggers sealed it by stuffing Homedale tailback Mason Kincheloe at the 1-yard line with 8 seconds left.
“I just think it comes down to grit and determination,” Sugar-Salem coach Tyler Richins said. “The stuff we did in the offseason, the work we put in in the weight room, the camaraderie with the boys, truly believing that this was a possibility for us. When you’re on the 1-yard line with the game on the line, that’s where that stuff comes out.”
Homedale (11-1) forced three turnovers of its own and recovered two short punts that bounced off Sugar-Salem blockers. The Trojans turned their first takeaway into an early 7-0 lead when Jake Collett’s interception of Harris led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Kincheloe for the only points of the first quarter.
Sugar-Salem tied it on Kyle Ostermiller’s 2-yard run, but Homedale reclaimed the lead after the first of its punt recoveries, with quarterback Daniel Uranga lofting a perfect fade route to Carson Brown in the corner of the end zone.
The first half ended with a wild sequence that foreshadowed more craziness to come. Sugar-Salem was stopped at the 1-yard line with 12 seconds remaining, but the Diggers salvaged two points when an ensuing Homedale fumble resulted in a safety and a 14-9 halftime deficit.
“We made some mistakes, for sure,” Richins said. “Fortunately, our defense was able to capitalize on Homedale’s mistakes and put some points on the board for us.”
Sugar-Salem recovered an onside kick to open the third quarter, but was forced to punt. Homedale then turned it over on downs at its own 31, leading to a nifty 27-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Gerohm Rihari to give Sugar-Salem its first lead, 16-14.
Homedale notched its second punt recovery of the day, but squandered the opportunity by fumbling in the red zone. The Trojans survived that fumble and a subsequent tip-drill interception by John Lewis, but Hayden Crapo recovered a muffed punt at the 8 and followed it up with a 5-yard touchdown run to give Sugar-Salem a 23-14 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
“It really came down to the team that made fewer mistakes,” Homedale coach Matt Holtry said. “They made a couple less than we did today.”
Sugar-Salem’s defense continued to wreak havoc in the fourth. A Riley Thurber interception didn’t lead to points, but a fumble did as the Diggers blew up a trick play attempt in the backfield and Grady Rasmussen scooped-and-scored from the 4 for a 30-14 lead.
“This was a crazy game,” Rasmussen said. “But we have a lot of studs on defense, and when it came down to it, we made the plays that needed to be made.”
The Trojans fought until the final horn. After getting stuffed at the Sugar-Salem 3, Homedale forced a fumble and Kincheloe punched in a short TD. A two-point pass from Uranga to Brown made it a one-score game with 4:35 remaining.
Sugar-Salem looked to kill the clock, but fumbled at midfield with just over 2 minutes to play. That set up a dramatic final drive, with the Trojans coming within a yard of the potential tying score.
Kincheloe finished with 96 hard-earned yards and two TDs on 26 carries, while Uranga threw for 175 yards, including 88 and a score to Brown.
Harris completed just two passes—one for a TD to Rihari—but he led the Diggers with 93 yards rushing. Sugar-Salem rushed for 231 yards overall, with eight players contributing carries.