DRAPER — Grand coach Dennis Wells had a hard time talking about his team's 21-6 semifinal win over No. 3 Juab Saturday afternoon.
That's because Wells and his Red Devils had plenty to play for, which extended well beyond the normal pressures of being in the latter stages of the playoffs.
The Devils' season took an unexpected turn just before they played Gunnison on the final day of that regular season. That day, they learned that two-way starter Kerby Smith had been diagnosed with leukemia. Smith watched from a wheelchair on the sidelines Saturday, and his impending fight with leukemia has weighed heavily on the minds of Grand's football team.
Combine that with the fact it's been 21 years since 2A No. 5 Grand last advanced to a championship game, and you can hardly blame Wells for getting emotional after his team got past Juab at Juan Diego.
"It's everything I envisioned it would be," said Wells. ". . . These guys haven't let me down at all. They're starting to learn how to win."
Behind a powerful offensive line, Grand predicated its entire offensive strategy around one idea — getting the ball to star back Tanner Brown.
Brown, who pushed his season rushing total to 1,824 yards, churned out 237 yards from 34 carries and scored two touchdowns for the Devils.
"He's got such good vision," said Wells. "You can't teach that."
After controlling much of the game, Grand found its 14-0 lead threatened midway through the fourth quarter. Juab's Dallen Proctor scored a three-yard touchdown with 4:59 remaining to pull the Wasps within eight points at 14-6.
With momentum seemingly shifting, Brown stepped up again to ensure there wouldn't be a comeback.
The junior running back single-handedly led a three play, 54-yard touchdown drive to put the contest beyond reach. After two runs for 29 and five yards, respectively, Brown broke loose from 30 yards and finished his run in the end zone.
Grand's offensive line, which was comprised of starters Cooper Henderson, Zane Taylor, Travis Stott, Andrew Baker and Tyler Markland, opened up great holes for Brown to zip through, and Wells said he was also pleased with the blocking of tight end Cody Skiby.
Four consecutive runs by Brown midway through the second quarter set up a nine-yard touchdown pass to Kelly VanArsdol.
When the Red Devils scored their other touchdown, which came with 8:05 left in the fourth quarter, Brown carried the ball on 11 of the 12 plays, including the five-yard TD run.
The last time Grand defeated Juab, in 1984, was also the last time they advanced to the state championship game. The Red Devils are in their 85th season of football but have never won a state championship. They're 0-5 in title games.
Astonishingly, the two teams combined for 11 turnovers, ten of which came in the first half. The Wasps committed seven of those, and the mistakes seemingly killed Juab offensively time and again.
Grand cornerback Gordon Garrett was responsible for three of those turnovers. He notched two interceptions and recovered a fumble.
Garrett said it was probably the best football game he's ever played, and he added his team will be playing for Smith in the title game against San Juan.
"The rest of the season's dedicated to him," said Garrett. "He's the heart of our team. We love him.
"We want to win a championship real bad, and we're going to get it for him."