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High school football: Layton Christian sneaks past Kanab in 1A semifinal defensive battle

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Box score

Layton Christian picked up its second consecutive upset of the 1A state playoffs by taking down the Kanab Cowboys 14-13 in a thrilling defensive battle Friday in the semifinals.

The Eagles utilized a touchdown on the opening drive of the game and then a long score late in the fourth quarter to pick up the win.

Jessaia Moala broke free for a 70-yard run to start the game, and Ilai Jared Tagidugu quickly proceeded to find the end zone from 9 yards out to give LCA an early lead.

The quick start set the tone for the Eagles’ defense, giving them some breathing room to play their game and set the team up for a win.

“You get to these championship rounds and defense wins championships. We spent a lot of time on defense this week.” said Layton Christian coach Ray Stowers.

Late in the first quarter, Kanab found itself inside the 1-yard line with a chance to tie the game, but a miscommunication between the center and quarterback led to a fumbled snap and Layton Christian recovered.

On the very next play, it was the Eagles that couldn’t handle the snap and the Cowboys recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.

Then after nearly two quarters of battling defense, Kanab finally broke the tie on a 4-yard touchdown run from Parker Franklin. The point after slid wide left, though, leaving the Cowboys with just a 13-7 lead heading into the final period.

Kanab’s defense continued to get stops. On one possession, a strip sack sent the ball flying backward over 20 yards, but the Cowboys weren’t able to collect it before it fell out of bounds in what would have for sure been a scoop and score touchdown.

On the ensuing possession, Kanab continued to run the ball well. However, after allowing the opponents to cross midfield, LCA’s Iverson Report was able to get his hand on the ball and force a fumble that Tagidugu recovered.

When asked about where the extra energy came from to force a game-changing turnover, defensive coordinator Cory Jones said, “It boils all the way back to summer camp. Never quit, never give up, fight to the bitter end as brothers. That play wasn’t made by just those two guys, but by all 11 of the players on the field doing their job.”

Once again, the LCA offense struggled, immediately finding itself facing a third and 22 from the wrong side of midfield.

“We wanted to score. We have some serious threats between Malik Johnson and Ilai Tagidugu. We knew that Kanab was bringing the pressure, so we wanted to take advantage of that,” Stowers said.

Zoram Petelo connected with Johnson deep down the right sideline, and after forcing a missed tackle, Johnson found himself in the end zone with the score tied, and Mirko Vukovic’s extra point gave the Eagles the lead.

The defense bent on the other side of the ball but did not break. Kanab kept picking up first downs, but at the cost of numerous plays. LCA’s Oaklin Sandoval stepped up and forced a big stop on third down before Kanab converted on fourth down.

Later in the drive, facing a third and 9, Kanab attempted a pass that Report batted back to the backfield. The quarterback caught it and tried to run, but the play ended with the Cowboys facing a fourth and 15 while the clock continued to run with little time left.

They couldn’t convert and Layton Christian took home the victory.

The 1A state championship is set to take place in a battle of the Eagles next Saturday between Layton Christian and Duchesne. For Duchesne, it is its fifth appearance in six years, although they haven’t been able to get over the hump of winning the title since 2016.

Layton Christian, on the other hand, will make its first title game appearance in a decade, when it lost to Duchesne 35-9 in 2011.

Kickoff is at 11 a.m. at Weber State University.