In the final game of regular season three weeks ago, Juan Diego edged Grantsville by a field goal in a grind of a defensive game that was decided by a fourth quarter field goal.
To no one’s surprise, when the same teams met in the 3A semifinals on Saturday, the game script unfolded similarly. The difference this time around was the fourth quarter — Grantsville dominated.
Tied a 7-7 after three quarters Saturday, Grantsville stepped things up in the fourth both offensively and defensively, pulling away for the 28-14 victory at Southern Utah University. It led 28-7 before Juan Diego scored a meaningless touchdown with 14 seconds remaining.
“The kids just gained confidence in what they were doing. We took what Juan Diego gave us and then we got a little bit of emotion and then ran with it,” said Grantsville coach Kody Byrd.
With the victory, Grantsville marches into the 3A championship at Weber State next Saturday at 5 p.m. against rival Morgan. In the region meeting between the two teams this season, Grantsville prevailed 21-7, but the Cowboys know firsthand after Saturday that duplicating a region win in the playoffs isn’t easy.
Caleb Sullivan, Blake Thomas and Gabe Mouritsen all rushed for touchdowns in the fourth quarter to move Grantsville within one victory of its first state championship since winning back-to-back titles in 1996 and 1997.
Grantsville hasn’t advanced to a state championship since 2003, when it lost to heavily-favored Bear River. This time around, anything could happen against rival Morgan.
“They have a prolific offense and their offensive line is physical and big. It’s Morgan. We always have heated rivalries,” said Byrd.
Juan Diego outgained Grantsville 347 to 219 yards Saturday, but Grantsville converted its big plays near the red zone and Juan Diego didn’t. That was particularly the case late in the game, which Byrd said his team builds toward all season.
“We work our tails off in the summer and preach ‘Fourth quarter is our quarter’ and ‘Second half is our half,’ and we work that way all summer. We don’t panic when things don’t go quite right the first half and make our little adjustments and come out in the second half and play a lot stronger,” said Byrd.
Grantsville led 7-0 at the half, but Juan Diego tied the game midway through the third quarter on a 55-yard TD pass from James Diego Valdez to Nicholas Ceballos.
Juan Diego’s defense answered the big play with its own, intercepting a pass and returning it to Grantsville’s 20-yard line with a chance to take its first lead of the game.
Facing a fourth and 1, Juan Diego elected to go for it instead of kicking a field goal, but Grantsville’s defense stuffed the dive attempt inches short.
“Our defense has come up big all year. They definitely have driven us and kept us in games,” said Byrd.
After the clutch defensive stand, Grantsville marched 90 yards in 3:31, with Sullivan capping the drive on a 46-yard TD run, putting the Cowboys ahead 14-7.
Grantsville’s offense scored the next two times it touched the ball to put the game away.
Defense was the theme throughout the first half, with Grantsville mustering up a paltry 64 yards and Juan Diego totaling 126.
Grantsville’s lone score of the first half came on a two-play, 35-yard drive that was set up by a short punt by Juan Diego into the wind. Sullivan capped that drive with a 17-yard TD pass to Dillen Richardson with 4:04 left in the half.
Juan Diego dominated time of possession in the first half, but had nothing to show for it as a couple of promising drives stalled. Its best scoring chance came on a missed 30-yard field goal after a 15-play drive that ate 6:41 off the clock.
The Soaring Eagle tried another field goal with 51 seconds left in the half, but it never got the kick off after a bobbled snap.