It’s an odd year, so it’s time for a new 2A football state championship.
San Juan jumped all over two-time defending state championship Beaver, building a four-touchdown lead in the second half on its way to the 34-21 victory at Weber State on Saturday afternoon for its first title since 2010.
And all of Blanding was there to see it, joked coach Barkley Christensen as the west stands at Stewart Stadium were packed with fans decked out in blue and yellow.
“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been dreaming about this ever since we were little kids, and to finally have it is just special for all the team and all the fans,” said senior receiver Ladd Ivins.
San Juan’s win assured that a crazy 14-year pattern continued in 2A football.
State titles have been won in pairs dating back to North Summit’s back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.
San Juan, Manti, South Summit, Beaver, South Summit and Beaver have all followed suit with their own back-to-back titles, but none of the seven repeat winners could ever make it a 3-peat.
Beaver was the latest to come up short in its 3-peat bid, but it went further than most, advancing to the title game despite just a couple of returning starters from last season.
One of the catalysts to San Juan’s success all season was Ivins, one of the smaller players on the roster.
Christensen said, however, that week in and week out, the unsung hero punches above his weight class.
He did so again on Saturday with 10 tackles defensively and 86 receiving yards and a touchdown offensively.
“He is the epitome of a champion. I can go back to summer after summer after summer where he’s hurt, broken, bruised, busted and he just doesn’t stop,” said Christensen.
“That should show every small kid that you can do anything, ‘cause that kid is insanely impressive.”
Ivins said he been teased throughout the season by his teammates for having the most helmet stickers on the team, but it’s something he takes great pride in.
“Even though I’m small, I still want to show that I’m a big dog and these stickers kind of show that,” said Ivins.
All of Ivins’ teammates played like big dogs in the first half against Beaver, building a 26-0 halftime lead and putting the game away early.
All week leading up to the game Christensen stressed with his players the importance of a fast start against Beaver’s slow, methodical offense that isn’t built to play catch-up.
San Juan beat Beaver 8-0 earlier in the season in a wet and muddy field, and Beaver coach Jon Marshall acknowledged that another low-scoring defensive game was about the only way his team could compete with San Juan.
That hope went out the window pretty quickly as San Juan marched 70 yards in 12 plays to open the game as Ivins hauled in a Jace Palmer touchdown.
Late in the first quarter, Palmer extended the lead to 14-0 on a 1-yard keeper.
San Juan effectively doubled its lead to 26-0 by halftime on a pair of Palmer second-quarter touchdown passes. The first was a 71-yarder to Cooper Black and the second was effectively a 30-yard Haily Mary pass as he heaved it to the middle of the end zone after scrambling out of the pocket on a third and long following back-to-back sacks.
Jerzy Nieves somehow came down with the ball despite being blanketed by three different Beaver defenders in the end zone.
San Juan outgained Beaver 228 yards to 79 yards in the first half, and a stout run defense was the key.
“We stopped the run early. They wore us down in the end, credit to them. We knew if we could get up early they’d have to run and milk the clock for us,” said Christensen.
Beaver controlled the ball in the second half, but couldn’t overcome the large deficit. It finished with 320 yards of total offense, not far off of San Juan’s 332 yards.
Palmer finished with a huge game offensively for the Broncos passing for 253 yards and four touchdowns. He added 33 yards on the ground an another score.
“That was the best game he’s played,” said Christensen.
Ironically enough, Palmer had zero passing touchdowns in San Juan’s 60-35 semifinal win over Summit Academy last week. He didn’t need to as San Juan’s rush defense torched the Bears with eight rushing scores.
Beaver’s strong defense forced Palmer to get the job done with his arm, and as he’s proven all year he was up to the task. He finished the season with 3,018 passing yards and 38 passing TDs.