‘Scared to lose?’ Whatever the motivation, Sugar-Salem does what it seemingly always does – beat Homedale in the Class 3A playoffs

HOMEDALE – Sugar-Salem heard all of the talk.

Despite being the three-time reigning Class 3A state champions, few had really given them much of a shot to come out of top-ranked and undefeated Homedale with a win.

But the No. 4 Diggers proved that the road to a state title very much still goes through them by advancing to their fourth consecutive state title game with a 16-7 win over Homedale on Saturday afternoon.

Sugar-Salem (8-2) will play third-ranked Weiser (11-1) in the 3A finals next week in Eastern Idaho. A date, time and location have not been set yet.

“We read stuff on social media all the time, ‘The Diggers are not looking good this year,’ and all this stuff,” Sugar-Salem senior defensive end Boyd Sorensen said. “People were not giving us the respect that we deserve. But I think we’ve really shown up and opened their eyes here today.”

It was a rematch of the last three state championship games. But all of those games were at neutral sites. This was Sugar-Salem’s first time making the 348-mile trek to Deward Bell Stadium – a place the Trojans hadn’t lost in 1,870 days.

The Diggers were also seemingly “down” this year following an 0-2 start for the first time in 17 years. However, despite those losses coming against teams such as Morgan (UT), which is playing for a state title, they were dropped from the rankings.

Sugar-Salem responded by winning its next seven games. But it was still dismissed when compared to how dominant Homedale had been, winning by an average point differential of 33.7 points per game.

And it appeared like the Diggers might be the next in line. The Trojans went right down the field on their opening possession of the game and scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Jaxon Dines to Mason Strong for a 7-0 lead three and a half minutes into the game.

Those ended up being their only points, though. Sugar-Salem answered with ball possession and defense.

It marched 80 yards in more than eight minutes to cut the lead down to 7-6 on a 10-yard run by Wyatt Harris on the first play of the second quarter on the ensuing drive. The Diggers then took the lead on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Daniel Neal with 1:28 remaining in the first half. It turned out to be all the points they needed.

Sugar-Salem did add a 20-yard field goal by Kyle Brunson with 2:19 to go that basically put the game out of reach. Homedale made one last gasp by driving the ball inside the Diggers’ 5-yard line. But Dines overthrew Hayden Kincheloe on a 4th-and-goal for a turnover on downs with under a minute remaining. Two kneel downs by Neal, and Sugar-Salem became the first 3A team in 12 years to play in four state finals in a row.

“I sometimes wonder if we’re scared to lose,” Sugar-Salem coach Tyler Richins said. “It’s just a fear of being that team that lets it all down. I’m telling you, football is alive and well in Sugar City.”

The Diggers controlled time of possession 30:23 to 17:37. They also held Kincheloe, last year’s 3A state player of the year who had more than 1,500 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns coming in, out of the end zone for the first time all season – and to 90 yards total. The seven points by the Trojans is also the fewest in a game by them since a 49-7 loss to Fruitland on Sept. 30, 2016 – the last home loss before Saturday.

“It comes down to in big games, sustaining drives, and we weren’t able to sustain the drives we needed to sustain and they were,” Homedale coach Matt Holtry said. “And that was the difference in the game.”

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