SALT LAKE CITY — Somewhat surprising, considering his position, Timpview senior linebacker Ofa Latu wound up leading his team with five interceptions.
It was quite the surge, with two last week and another pair in a 35-6 Class 4A state championship win against Springville on Friday.
The first one at Rice-Eccles Stadium happened midway through the second quarter and the other came in the third, just when it actually looked like a close game was developing. Springville scored its only touchdown, trailed by just eight points, and forced a punt.
Latu, shifty at 210 pounds, did a little disappear-reappear and made it a 21-6 lead — essentially assuring the T'Birds a fourth consecutive title — when he read Steve Bate's pass and picked off a first-and-10 throw. He returned it 32 yards along Springville's sideline for the score.
"Big players make big plays on the big stage," Timpview quarterback Trevor Brown said. "If he's not the 4A MVP, I don't know who is."
Latu wound up edging safety Chris Badger for the team-high interception total, his two Friday breaking a tie at three. Accounting for six points in the final two games also made his interceptions even more valuable.
The first pick against Springville, part of five turnovers forced, came at the instruction of assistant coach Cary Whittingham, who would routinely tell Latu to move backwards.
"I got the first one, and realized I did need to back up," said Latu, all smiles with a lei around his neck and some bleached long, curly hair.
"It's awesome. When I used to live in Hawaii, I was in (football) little league and we lost one of these championship games. I never wanted to feel that feeling again, especially today. No way."
Thanks in large part to his ability to hide on the field, then anticipate the play — stepping in at the succinctly correct moments — Latu avoided disappointment.
"After Ofa returned the one for a pick-6, I went to (assistant) coach (Chad) Van Orden and we both smiled and looked at each other. I said, 'We needed that,' " Brown said.
The only surprising thing? Timpview head coach Louis Wong said his playmaker is looking for a place to play next year.
"Someone needs to look at him. He has too much football savvy, too much knowledge. He's awesome and played great today," Timpview's coach said.
∫ Tough ending: Springville coach Scott Mitchell praised his own team's diligence to reach the title game, and also lauded Timpview's effort. But he was disappointed with some conduct in the closing minutes, when play was regularly stopped because of flags, whistles and referees' discussions to sort out the chaos. Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties marred what was otherwise a hard-fought game.
Tempers flared late as Timpview turned a 14-6 tight game in the third quarter into a rout.
"It's unfortunate that it got that way. But it's two competitive teams and we're not going to lay down," Mitchell said. "There's a way to win and lose with dignity, and I'm not sure either one of us did that today. I'm not pleased with how we ended the game, how we handled some situations. ... I think it just got out of hand."
∫ Back playing for a championship: Of course, a lot's been made this week about Mitchell leading Springville to another title bid. He was the quarterback in 1985, the last time the school advanced that far.
"It's a lot harder to coach. You can't do anything about it," Mitchell said. "You just stand there on the sidelines. But it's a great feeling for our players, the growth they had. It's a satisfying feeling. We've come a long way. Our players have a lot to be proud of."
∫ A great time in his life, for various reasons: Said Timpview's coach Wong: "This has been a great week for me. On Wednesday it was my daughter's 17th birthday. Yesterday my son came home off his mission, and today we win a championship. What more can you ask for?"
∫ Last word: "I know I gotta get one more just like him. But I'm happy with four straight. It's a great accomplishment." — Timpview junior wide receiver Zach VanLeeuwen (his brother Travis, a freshman wide receiver at Utah State, has two Timpview state championship rings).
∫Extra points: Tyler Robertson, a junior Springville lineman, did a fine job singing the national anthem solo. ... Jacob Embley and John Summerfeldt, both of Maple Mountain, were the local selections on the 4A academic all-state team. The group of 10 was announced at halftime.