Grantsville’s Ethan Rainer only caught one pass in Saturday’s 3A state championship that will show up on the offensive stat sheet.
It’s the pass he caught defensively that people in Grantsville will be talking about for years to come.
Rainer’s interception at the goal line with 1:32 remaining clinched Grantsville its first state championship in 24 years, as it held on for a thrilling 14-10 victory over Morgan in front of a large, vocal crowd at Weber State.
“This game I didn’t do very good at receiver but defensively I came out and showed them I could get the ball,” said a teary-eyed Rainer, who finished the season with seven interceptions after his title-clinching takeaway.
Grantsville had a chance to seal the win a minute earlier but it dropped a fourth-and-1 pass, which gave possession back to Morgan with 2:06 remaining, 59 yards away from the victory.
The safe play would’ve been for Grantsville to punt, but with the best defense in 3A, coach Kody Byrd had confidence either way.
“I went for the big one on the fourth down to try to get it. The coaches talked about it. We thought we could put the nail in the coffin,” said Byrd, who said he had just graduated from a college in Los Angeles back in 1997 the last time Grantsville won a state championship.
“We had a 100% faith in our defense. When it comes down to that, we knew they wouldn’t let us down.”
Alan Mouritsen was the star of that Grantsville team back in 1997, so it’s only fitting that 24 years later, it was his son who led the way offensively for the Cowboys, as Gabe Mouritsen rushed for a team-leading 115 yards.
Quarterback Caleb Sullivan was clutch as well, rushing for 88 yards and two scores. He only connected with Rainer — Grantsville’s leading receiver all season — once during the game, but said he wasn’t surprised at all that his teammate hauled in the championship-clinching interception on Morgan’s 40-yard pass attempt in single coverage.
“I felt like I needed to go grab that ball just to bring home the win,” said Rainer, who hauled it in just like a receiver would on a deep ball.
Byrd added, “He’s stepped up for us big all year. If it wasn’t an interception it was a big touchdown catch or a big return.
“It’s great and fitting for him that he could have that moment.”
Rainer’s interception was the last momentum swing in a second half that featured several massive swings and a sluggish first half that featured just one touchdown, a Sullivan 2-yard TD run that gave his team a 7-0 halftime lead.
Grantsville took the opening possession of the second half and marched methodically down the field, churning five minutes off the clock, but it failed to convert a fourth down as it looked to go ahead two scores.
As far as the Cowboys defense was concerned, it was no big deal. It corralled Morgan handily in the first half and fully expected to do the same in the second half.
Morgans had other ideas.
It attacked with an up-tempo offense, recording one chunk play after another, eventually tying the game 7-7 at the 3:55 mark of the third quarter on a Will Korth 7-yard burst up the middle.
Morgan’s defense forced a quick three-and-out on Grantsville’s ensuing possession, and after looking very average in the first half, it suddenly had seized all momentum.
It ended up taking a 10-7 lead on a Beau Johnson 41-yard field goal with 17 seconds left in the half, but Morgan could’ve done more damage after not getting a first down despite having second down and 3 from the 23 yard-line.
For Grantsville, despite seeing its 7-0 lead turn into a 10-7 deficit in a matter of five minutes, there was no panic.
“We just have faith in what we do, believed in our process,” said Byrd.
Grantsville responded to Morgan taking the lead with a major statement on its most important drive of the season.
It marched 80 yards, taking 3:39 off the clock as Sullivan scored on a 7-yard TD run as he dove for the pylon, giving his team the 14-10 lead with 8:38 remaining.
Mouritsen accounted for 50 yards of offense on the drive.
“We turned to our big guys. We had to make big plays and we cap it off with a touchdown and momentum was back in our favor,” said Sullivan.
Morgan looked poised to reclaim momentum itself in response to Grantsville’s strong drive with an impressive drive of its own. A fumble at Grantsville’s 27 spoiled it, though.
Aided by a fortunate dropped pass by Grantsville, Morgan got one more crack at a game-winning drive. Rainer, though, had another idea, and Grantsville is now celebrating its first football state championship in over two decades.