ST. GEORGE — Snow Canyon (10-1) rallied for a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Stansbury (8-3) Friday night as the Warriors used a big second half to pull out a 20-19 win.
With the victory, Snow Canyon will face Pine View in the 4A semifinals in what should be another classic in the crosstown rivalry. The Warriors’ only blemish on the season came at the hands of the Panthers in a 36-35 loss on the road.
“We’re excited about facing Pine View again,” said Snow Canyon head coach Mike Esplin. “I know our guys are looking forward to the rematch and to show what they can do.”
Added quarterback Landon Frei: “I’m glad we get to play them again. We’ve been waiting a long time to get that rematch and I know our guys are going to be ready. Pine View is a great team and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The rematch nearly didn’t happen, as Stansbury controlled the first half Friday en route to a 16-7 halftime lead.
- Watch replay: Snow Canyon 20, Stansbury 19
Stansbury running back Nathan Bushnell opened the game with a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Stallions a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, although Snow Canyon quickly answered as Frei threw two deep passes, including a 52-yarder to Will Warner for a touchdown. The sophomore receiver caught the ball in stride and made a man miss before running untouched into the end zone to tie the game at 7-7.
The Stallions then sacked Frei for a safety and Cayden Clark hauled in a 5-yard touchdown catch with just 10 seconds to go in the second quarter to push the lead to two scores.
With Stansbury getting the ball to start the third quarter, things didn’t look good for the Warriors. When asked what his magical speech was that helped turned things around at halftime, Esplin smiled and praised the effort and focus of each of the players in the second half.
“I didn’t give a big speech,” he said. “I just told the kids that we would be fine. We made some mistakes and didn’t capitalize on some things, but I knew if we cleaned things up and played our game, we would be able to come back.”
Stansbury, which came in averaging 47.9 points per game this season — including 61 points over its last four games — was held to just three points in the second half as the Warrior defense forced three turnovers.
“I’m proud of our defense,” said Esplin. “Our guys knew how many points Stansbury had been scoring and our guys really took it as a challenge and wanted to make a statement tonight. They did that and I couldn’t be happier for them.”
On paper, the game looked like it was going to be a shootout between two high-powered offenses, but it was the defenses that stole the show. Frei, who came in with just two interceptions all season, was picked off twice by the Stallion defense in the first half. On the other side, Stansbury couldn’t get much going and was stopped multiple times on fourth down.
The Stallions also had three turnovers, including an interception late in the fourth quarter that ended the game.
A big reason for Snow Canyon’s comeback was the performance of its receivers, who made several incredible catches to keep drives alive as well as two touchdown catches.
On third and 6 from its own territory in the third quarter, Frei threw a deep ball over the middle towards Jordan Wade. Despite having two defenders on him, Wade was able to haul in the 40-yard pass to move the chains and setup a touchdown a few plays later.
Facing fourth and goal from the 9-yard line, Frei threw a fade toward Wade in the corner of the end zone. Outjumping the defender, Wade caught the ball while tapping his toes just inside the lines for the touchdown to cut the deficit to 19-14.
“Jordan is one of the tallest guys on the team and we just had faith that he was going to catch it and make another big play for us,” said Frei. “Jordan made an awesome catch a few plays right before that so it was fitting for him to get the touchdown.”
As Stansbury was driving down the field and nearing the red zone, the Snow Canyon defense forced its second turnover on the night to set up the Warriors third and final touchdown. As the offense drove down the field midway through the fourth quarter — making timely third down conversions — the Warriors took advantage of man coverage with a deep ball to Logan Mendenhall.
The junior receiver got some separation and made a diving catch at the goal line to give the Warriors its first lead of the game at 20-19. Snow Canyon’s two-point conversion failed as they held just a one-point lead against one of the best offenses in 4A.
After both teams traded punts, Stansbury got the ball one last time. With just two minutes left on the clock and two timeouts, the Stallions were backed up on their 15-yard line. After quarterback Kru Huxford ran for a first down and then found Clark for a 15-yard gain, the Stallions looked like they were on their way to setting up a game-winning touchdown or field goal.
But Snow Canyon would have none of it. After three consecutive stops, Stansbury was faced with a fourth and 7 with just 54 seconds to go in the game. Huxford dropped back to pass before firing a dart to his receiver over the middle. However, the ball was tipped before landing in the hands of Jacob Wittwer, Snow Canyon’s kicker, who was filling in as a cornerback in the second half.
“I couldn’t be happier for Jacob,” said Esplin. “For us, he’s not just a kicker. He’s a playmaker and we were fortunate to find him. Before the season started we didn’t even have a kicker. Jacob is a talented soccer player and agreed to come and help us out. One day during practice he asked to play corner and he’s been making plays ever since. He’s played more as the season has gone on and with injuries recently, he’s stepped up and made big plays for us.”