On Halloween morning last year, less than 12 hours after San Juan lost to eventual state champion Juab in the 3A quarterfinals, roughly 45 sleepy-eyed San Juan players strolled into the school weight room with a figurative chip on their shoulders.
Every starter in that Juab loss was an underclassman, and they vowed not to let that bitter taste be how they remembered things a year later.
“After that game, we all made a big group chat and said this isn’t happening again,” said San Juan quarterback Jace Palmer.
Palmer, along with fellow team leaders Jensen Grover and Ladd Ivins, were at the center of the player-led weightlifting session the following morning.
Fast forward a year, and everything San Juan’s players vowed to accomplish is falling into place.
Top-seed San Juan marched into the 2A state championship game on Saturday morning with a dominant 60-35 semifinal victory over No. 4 seed Summit Academy at Southern Utah University.
The Broncos posted a 40 spot in the first half and finished the game with 556 yards of total offense — 304 of which came on the ground against an overmatched Summit Academy defense.
Summit Academy matched San Juan in scoring in the second half, but 27 points was way too much to overcome despite its own big plays offensively.
“Their offense is so high powered, and ours is too, so we’ve got to jump on them, get turnovers,” said San Juan coach Barkley Christensen, who told his players before the game, “First half is going to dictate the whole game.”
The 60 points wasn’t even the highest-offensive output for San Juan this season. It scored more than that twice this season, but it was certainly the most against a quality opponent.
Christensen said the catalyst behind the success all season has been those 20 seniors who started prepping for big days like Saturday over a year ago.
“Good teams are coach-led, great teams are player-led,” said Christensen. “We’re just bigger, faster, stronger and more physical a lot of the times.”
With the win, San Juan advances to next Saturday’s 2A state championship at Weber State where it will face the winner of the Beaver-South Summit semifinal game Saturday afternoon.
San Juan’s last title game appearance came back in 2012, where it lost to Manti in overtime 16-13. Its last championship win was in 2010.
San Juan marched into Saturday’s semifinal averaging a 2A-best 41.8 points per game, and it showed why early, scoring on its opening drive of the game with Bronson Snyder plunging forward for the 1-yard score.
Collin Baker intercepted a Summit Academy pass on the ensuing possession, with Palmer scoring on a TD run a few plays later for the 14-0 lead.
The onslaught never stopped.
Palmer finished with 13 carries for 100 yards and four touchdowns to go along with his 252 yards passing. Grover added 165 rushing yards and three TDs.
With San Juan already cruising midway through the second quarter, Baker returned his second interception 68 yards for a touchdown, putting the Broncos ahead 40-7.
The lead never dipped below three touchdowns the rest of the way.
Summit Academy kept fighting despite the huge deficit, making sure the game never got to a running clock as Devin Watson led the way offensively, completing 31 of 50 passes for 477 yards and five touchdowns.