SPANISH FORK — All of the fireworks in Spanish Fork's vital 34-7 Region 6 win over Payson Thursday night came in a short period of time. Every thing in between wasn't pretty — for either team.
Fortunately for the Dons, they were able to capitalize on a few big plays and used 27 second-half points to break open a close game. Dons senior Nick Welsh almost single-handedly made the Spanish Fork faithful forget all of the game's miscues. Welsh, who hasn't carried the ball since a knee injury four games ago, had a 21-yard touchdown run, an 86-yard touchdown run and a 96-yard interception return for a score - all in the second half. He also picked off a pass on the game's first play.
"It's nice to have No. 2 back in the backfield," Dons coach Scott Brumfield said. "He's huge for us. On and off the field he's our leader."
The win was critical for Spanish Fork's playoff hopes. The Dons are now tied with Provo and Payson with one league victory.
"We've been in a slump for a few games but when we get things going I think we can play with anybody," Brumfield said.
Payson had few bright spots, and nothing to help the Lions recover from seven turnovers, six of which came inside Spanish Fork territory. Besides the Lions frequent surrendering of the ball, there was a combined 12 punts in the game, six holding calls and three personal fouls.
Spanish Fork was hurt several times with costly penalties. Two long touchdown plays in the first half were called back on holding calls and a late hit on a Lions punt return less than a minute before halftime helped Payson tie the game. First, Brady Shephard broke loose for a 42-yard run that came back, then Welsh's 83-yard reception was brought back.
Meanwhile, almost every threat Payson mounted was killed with a turnover. After Steve Wall returned the opening kick to midfield, Blake Francom's pass was picked off by Welsh on the Lions first play from scrimmage. Then, on the second play of the second quarter, Francom coughed the ball up trying to get a first down on a sneaker. Later in the period, following a 44-yard run by Wall, reserve quarterback Spencer Nielsen fumbled on the Dons' 15-yard line.
Nielsen was in the game because Francom suffered a possible season-ending shoulder injury when sacked late in the first period. Other than a couple of fumbles, the Lions' reserve signal caller played well and it was his 10-yard scoring strike to Nate Quist with 5 seconds remaining in the half to knot the game 7-7 at the break.
After Spanish Fork's early interception, the Dons capped a 10-play scoring drive on their first possession with a 14-yard scoring toss from Griff Robles to Taft Morley to go up 7-0. That was all of the offense the Dons could muster in the first two quarters, partly because Payson's Austin Moore was in the backfield a good share of the time. Moore had three sacks in the second quarter alone.
The Dons were also using a makeshift line for the first two quarters. Two starters were benched after getting into a brawl at a school pep assembly during a tug-of-war contest. Potential college prospect Keeghan Gilchrist, at 6-feet-8 and 320 pounds, was also dismissed from the team.
A flubbed onside kick by the Lions to open the second half gave the Dons possession at their own 42. Two consecutive 21-yard runs by Welsh and they were in pay dirt. A Payson punt moments later pinned the Dons deep, but Welsh broke free two plays later and scampered 86 yards for a score. In less that four minutes of the second half the Dons broke the game open. Welsh sealed the game when he picked off a pass near the Dons' goal line and out ran everyone to the other goal line. Spanish Fork's final score came on a five-yard run by Brady Shephard, who also had a 36-yard run on the drive.
In other action Thursday:
BRIGHTON 37, COPPER HILLS 20: Bengal rushers Taylor Gleave and Ryan Carter earned over 100 yards for Brighton in a sloppy win over Copper Hills.
HILLCREST 14, WEST JORDAN 6:Adam Eastman connected on a 41-yard pass with Ben Hendy, and Robert Takeno scored on a one-yard rushing touchdown as the Huskies edged the Jaguars in a critical Region 2 game.
ALTA 38, RIVERTON 28:Byron Putnam rushed for 262 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns in the win for the Hawks.
BINGHAM 38, JORDAN 0: Bingham spread 30 carries over three ball carriers in a ground-based win for the Miners.