‘That’s where winners are’: savoring the Mustangs’ first 4A state football championship

SALT LAKE CITY — Crimson Cliffs head football coach Wayne Alofipo teaches that you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems, and your preparation, and your habits.

Crimson Cliffs head football coach Wayne Alofipo directs his charges in the 4A Utah state football championship game, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 17, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

“What matters is our preparation, our habits, and the systems that we have in place,” he told the Mustangs after practice last Wednesday night, less than 48 hours before Crimson Cliffs would seize the 4A Utah state football championship in just its fifth year as a high school.

“Those are the things that are going to show up,” Alofipo told his team. “We don’t rise to a goal. We rise to our level of preparation, our systems, and our habits. That’s where winners are.”

The systems in place for Crimson were sufficient for a 33-0 shutout over Green Canyon in the championship game Saturday morning at Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah.

Alofipo’s trademark 3-4 defense, starting 10 seniors, sacked Green Canyon quarterback Payton Wilson three times. The Mustangs recovered a fumble and snagged an interception. 

Crimson’s D held the Wolves to 155 passing yards and 76 rushing yards. The Mustangs scored a safety on special teams. 

Offensive coordinator Andy Stokes, in his first year at Crimson, directed an offense that amassed 436 total yards in the championship game.

Senior quarterback Steele Barben’s numbers were eye-catching. The signal caller completed 22 of 27 pass attempts, tossed three touchdowns and piled up 295 passing yards.

Senior wide receiver Ty West had equally gaudy stats: 10 catches, 138 yards, two touchdowns.

Their electrifying 73-yard touchdown connection on the game’s first play set the tone and the Mustangs never looked back.

“That’s what we were planning on doing the whole time,” West said about the statement-making play.

“I give 100 percent credit to coach Stokes,” Alofipo said. “That’s something he had early in the script on Sunday night and credit all goes to Andy Stokes.”

Senior kicker Ty Ottenschot booted a 19-yard field goal in the championship game. He also went 4-for-4 on extra point kicks, bringing his yearly total of PAT’s to 82.

Systems, check. Preparation, check. Habits, check. There’s your championship.

What it all means

Coach Wayne Alofipo is a bit of a preacher. His manner of speech rings evangelical, occasionally.

Crimson Cliffs has only been a high school since 2019. St. George News asked Alofipo, “How did you build such a good program in such a short time?”

His answer is worth reading verbatim.

“It’s been a lot of people involved in this, from coach (Jaron) Tate, our first head coach here, to a lot of the other guys that have come and gone, and to the first players that decided to come over and help build Crimson to what it is,” he said.

“This championship is for all those who’ve come before us, that have been here and been through Crimson and in year five to be able to put a capstone and say, Crimson is finally on the frickin map,” Alofipo said.

Crimson’s best fan

Kyle Kirk was with the Mustangs almost every single game of the year, recognizable as he piloted his electric wheelchair deftly along the sideline.

Crimson Cliffs senior quarterback Steele Barben with the Mustangs’ No. 1 Fan, Kyle Kirk, after winning the 4A Utah state football championship, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 17, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

As a freshman at Crimson Cliffs, Kyle was one of the Mustangs’ stoutest fans this season.

“I just like to cheer them on,” Kyle told St. George News at halftime of the 4A state championship game Saturday morning. “They make super great plays, and it’s just fun watching this team excel.”

Kyle has a condition called spinal muscular atrophy, requiring the wheelchair. He says it makes his muscles weak, he gets weaker over time. He treats it with medication and has an active lifestyle.

“It’s really cool to get to be around them and cheer them on and be part of the team,” Kyle said.

Coach Wayne Alofipo said Kyle is a true Mustang.

“Kyle is family to us. Kyle comes and reminds a lot of these young men to be grateful,” Alofipo said. “Be grateful for what you have. Be grateful to be able to play this game. Be grateful to be able to do what you do. He makes us better.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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