Vaz breaks out as No. 3 Legend downs No. 6 Fairview in 5A football playoffs

PARKER — When a next-man-up philosophy is talked about at Legend in the future, everyone will point to Bryce Vaz.

It was in the middle of the week that a shoulder injury took starting running back Connor Eise out of Saturday's Class 5A playoff game against Fairview. It was Vaz who was next in line and looking for a chance to prove himself as a standout back in his own right.

And he took advantage of that opportunity in a big way.

Vaz found the end zone six times lead No. 3 Legend to a 56-35 win over No. 6 Fairview and into next week's 5A semifinals.

"I was just waiting for my chance," Vaz said. "I went to Valor my freshman year. Transferred here, couldn't play varsity as a sophomore because of transfer rules. I've just been waiting for my chance and I've been asking to get some running back reps. I got my chance tonight."

The Titans (7-0 overall) have looked like a dangerous team all season and if possible, Vaz only makes them more formidable heading into next week.

(Brad Cochi)

In all, he carried the ball 31 times for 310 yards and six scores. The two touchdowns that didn't come by his hand were two touchdown runs from JT Axelrod, one for three yards and the other for 56. For being fairly grounded, the Legend offense was on point for the first playoff game of the year.

"It's the way we bond," quarterback Kalen Shoemaker said. "If we mess up, we bounce right back. We live and learn."

While the offense was responsible for several highlight moments, perhaps the most important plays of the game were made by the Titans defense. Fairview's high-flying offensive attack often gets complimented by a double-wing set in 4th and short situations. But that wasn't the case on Saturday.

Three times in the first half, the Knights (6-1) went for it on 4th and 1 and three times the Titans denied them. Legend only scored touchdowns on one of the possessions following the turnovers on downs, but the stops themselves were essential in dictating a tone for the game.

"What it really does is serve as a turnover," Legend coach Monte Thelen said. "It's the same thing as a turnover and in a game that's 56-35 you just need to hold serve and not let them score. We were fortunate enough to not let them do that a few times."

(Brad Cochi)

Thelen did point out that the Knights were able to put up 35 points. Quarterback Liam O'Brien put up numbers that would normally grab headlines and a win. He went 43-for-62 with 461 yards and five touchdowns.

But as the sun dipped behind the horizon, the light went out on the Knights' state championship hopes.

Next up for Legend is a showdown with No. 2 Valor Christian, a showdown that Vaz is very much looking forward to.

"This is my state championship," he said.

If he can even perform half as well as he did on Saturday, the Titans will have a fighting chance to move on to the program's first state championship game. Considering that he hasn't even been the starter all year, having him as an ace in the hole is something that can make the Titans and Thelen very happy.

"How good do you feel about Bryce Vaz tonight," Thelen said. "Because we feel pretty darn good."

After running for over 300 yards and six scores, who wouldn't feel good about Bryce Vaz?

(Brad Cochi)