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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton football coach impressed with team’s resilience under adversity

Nov 06, 2023 01:55PM ● By Jerry S. Christensen

Brighton’s football program continues an upward trajectory under second-year head coach Casey Sutera despite adversity. 

“Our football program has become a community effort,” Brighton assistant principal Justin Pitcher said. “I think it’s fantastic that our Brighton neighborhood and community have stepped up to support Brighton High School football over the years and look forward to a wonderful championship season.”

Sutera guided his team of 136 student-athletes to the 2023 state playoff tournament despite two daunting elements—stiffer competition in the reconfigured 5A Region 6 and injuries to key players. “I think the highlight of the year so far is to see our response to adversity. We have had a lot of players who have had to step in because of injuries, and I have been so impressed with the number of kids who have contributed on the team this year,” Sutera said. 

Region 6 lost two teams which moved to 4A regions—Murray and Park City. They were replaced with the powerhouse football programs of Alta and West. Last year, West High took their football team to the 6A quarterfinals. It was inevitable that Brighton, the three-time Region 6 champions, and West would clash for the coveted region title.  

That region championship game came down to the last week of the regular season on a cold,  mid-October night at West. Brighton was the underdog per the RPI stats. Brighton was without starting quarterback Jack Johnson and senior DB Kimball Shill who were out with injuries.  Stepping up for the beleaguered Bengals was the three-headed rushing attack of Kaden Morzelewski, Mason Haertel and Beau La Fleur. Given the horizontal rain of the night, Sutera called a successful ground game for the first half. Brighton scored early and often with deep runs into a surprised West Panther defense. Brighton ended the blustery first half with a commanding 21-7 lead. 

West made critical adjustments during half time as the weather let up. Brighton transitioned to a passing scheme which West seemed more prepared for. The game turned on a West punt that pinned Brighton on its own 1-yard line. West’s focused rushing and the wet field colluded to force a fumble which West recovered in the end zone. That play proved to be the difference in the game. While Brighton had a few last-minute Hail Mary options to salvage the region championship and a high seed in the state tournament, West batted down each attempt for a 31-24 Panther win. 

Depth was tested after senior defensive back Kimball Shill suffered a broken collarbone in the homecoming game against longtime state rival Skyline. Shill and his defensive line held the Eagles scoreless notching a statement 42-0 win. Shill’s crew held Skyline to 50 yards of total offense or 1.29 yards per play. Oddly, Shill’s injury happened in the third quarter yet he finished the defensive stand through the fourth quarter somewhat unaware of the broken collarbone. “It felt like something was off, but the adrenaline of the game kept me focused,” Shill said. 

Brighton’s Georgetown-bound quarterback, Jack Johnson, ended the East game on crutches.  Two weeks earlier, he set a Brighton school record against 6A Riverton throwing for 536 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Johnson’s injury put the East game in doubt as the Leopards brought the ball to the 2-yard line on a gutsy two-point conversion attempt to win the game. Time expired as Easton Adamson and a stack of defensive players were disentangled to determine if East had put the ball over the goal line. Of the play, Adamson recalled, “It came down to who wanted it more, and we obviously did. We have some pretty physical guys on our D-line and we worked on that goal line play a ton before that game. It obviously paid off.”  Defense came to the rescue. 

Both Johnson and Shill are back on the field for November state games. Brighton expects to go deeper into the playoffs than they have in the last three years. Shill and Nicolas Morgan are academic all-state student-athletes in football. λ