Morgan’s offensive coordinator must’ve found a cheat code for his running game ahead of Saturday’s 3A semifinal, because his running backs ran wild all day.
In a highly-anticipated rematch of last year’s 3A title game between Morgan and Juab, Morgan dominated the line of scrimmage, racking up 410 rushing yards and 500 yards of total offense as it pulled away late for the 54-38 victory at Southern Utah University.
Juab’s offense, meanwhile, ran for minus-4 yards.
Juab did, however, have a ton of success throwing the ball despite the windy conditions, and was very much in the game midway through the fourth quarter. Its defense just couldn’t get off the field when it needed to most.
“Anytime you’re able to run the ball like that in any weather, it makes the game easier. Wind, no wind, snow, no snow, if you can run the ball, it’s a good day,” said Morgan coach Jared Barlow.
William Lance led the running game with 202 yards and a score, with Will Korth chipping in 87 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Despain scored a pair of rushing touchdowns of his own, finishing with 63 yards.
“That’s been one of our more consistent things. We’re able to throw the ball. Our QB is a great quarterback and makes good reads, but our strength is definitely our offensive line. They do an awesome job,” said Barlow.
With the win, Morgan advances to the 3A state championship next Saturday at Weber State at 5 p.m. against the winner of the other semifinal between Juan Diego and Grantsville.
Seven of Morgan’s eight touchdowns came on the ground against Juab, with the other a 92-yard kick return by Tanner Stanley midway through the first quarter.
Despite scoring 54 points, Morgan couldn’t truly breath easy until the final few minutes when it stretched the lead to 16 points. The reason was Juab’s pass offense was rocking, with Alex Jackson completing 37 of 50 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns.
Three of his TDs went to Wesley Nielsen, including a score early in the third quarter that put Juab ahead 28-26 after some Morgan missed extra points in the first half.
Three minutes after the Wasps took the lead, Morgan responded with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that Despain capped with a 13-yard TD, putting his team ahead 33-28.
Defensively, the Trojans forced Juab into a quick three-and-out and appeared to be in great shape to stretch its lead back to two possessions. Instead, Morgan’s punt return coughed the ball up after trying to field a booming punt on the bounce.
With the short field, suddenly it was Juab in prime shape to regain the lead.
Despite moving the ball to the 8-yard line with first and goal, Juab couldn’t punch it in, settling for a field goal instead and whittling the deficit to 33-31.
That defensive stand changed the entire complexion of the game, and Barlow was thrilled to see his players respond to the difficult circumstance created by the special teams miscue.
“Defense struggled a little bit today, but one thing they’ve always been is they’re tough kids, and they understand and we’ve had to challenge them throughout the year,” said Barlow.
Juab’s defense needed a similar type stop to try to claw back into the game, but it didn’t get it. Morgan’s offense marched right back downfield and reclaimed the 40-31 lead.
Juab matched the score at the 9:30 mark of the fourth quarter on an Alex Jackson 7-yard TD pass to Payton Park. Instead of going for two and trying to eliminate the possibility of another nine-point deficit if Morgan scored easily again, Juab elected to simply kick the extra point, cutting the deficit to 40-38.
Just as it had all game, Morgan answered by running the ball right down Juab’s throat again, punching it in after a 10-play drive and again going up by nine, 47-38, with 6:12 remaining.
“I thought our running backs ran really well. They made some good cuts. Our offensive line did an awesome job blocking, but our running backs made some cuts today that opened things up even more,” said Barlow.
Knowing Juab had to take same risks down two possessions, Morgan’s dialed up its pass defense as Juab’s offense ran out of a gas down the stretch.