Ever wondered what it’s like to spend a day on the road with the Morgan High School football team? We at The Morgan County News did, so we decided to tag along with the Trojans last Friday on their trip to Castle Dale to play the Emery Spartans. It was the third road game in a row for the Trojans and was their longest trip of the season by far, lasting more than 12 hours and covering almost 400 miles. The trip involved nearly 60 football players, nine coaches, eight cheerleaders, three team managers, two bus drivers, an athletic trainer, several dozen supportive parents, students and fans, and one curious reporter. Check out our timeline below to find out how it all came together.
12:45 p.m. – Football players and cheerleaders are released from their classes and start filling up the two school buses that will take the team to Emery County. The day actually begins at about 11:30 a.m. for head coach Kovi Christiansen. In addition to picking up a suburban and trailer from fleet services, Christiansen starts gathering equipment needed for the evening, including water bottles, cameras, coaches’ headsets, etc. Once released from classes, players load their equipment onto the trailer or in the storage compartments on the bus. Seventh grader and team manager Kia Christiansen (yes, the coach’s kid), does most of the work.
1:07 p.m. – Two yellow school buses pull out of the MHS parking lot, only seven minutes behind schedule. Bus drivers are Rex Thomas and Karl Reeder. Thomas says he’s “not from Morgan.” He’s only lived here for 38 years. He prefers long bus trips to local ones.
1:20 p.m. – Morgan assistant coach and MHS graduate Chad Crossley (class of 2009) says he didn’t have long road trips like this when he played on the football team. Logan and Grantsville were about as far as he went. He played for two years under coach Renn Hoopes and two under Christiansen. At first, it was a little weird to be a coach alongside his former coach, but he’s used to it now. Being on the bus has its advantages. On one road trip last year, the bus had just left the high school when Crossley noticed a woman putting a For Sale sign up in the front yard of a house. He and his wife Karlie were in the market for a house, so he immediately called Karlie on the phone and asked her to run over and find out about it. She did, and the rest is history. They purchased the home last December.
1:49 p.m. – Passing downtown Salt Lake City. Fortunately, buses get to use the carpool lane. The other lanes are pretty slow going.
2:15 p.m. – Christiansen says he’s been on school buses most of his life. He graduated from Lovell High School in Wyoming in 1991, and played football, basketball and baseball. He’s also been a high school football and basketball coach for 19 years. But perhaps even more interesting is that while attending the University of Wyoming after his LDS mission, he had a part-time job as a bus driver for Laramie School District. He had a regular route taking kids to and from school and then drove the bus for activities on the weekends. He drove as far as Cody, Wyo.; Denver, Colo.; and once to Salt Lake City for a band competition. Maybe he’ll do it again once he retires from teaching.
2:27 p.m. – The buses pass Utah Valley University in Orem. On the other side of the freeway, five custom tour buses head north. On the side of the buses are the words “BYU Band.” They’re obviously headed to Utah State for the Cougars’ big football game against the Aggies. It was later learned that the band members were the only ones from BYU who actually played at that game. The football team apparently forgot to show up.
2:40 p.m. – Twenty-minute pitstop at Fresh Market in Spanish Fork. Who knew that you could purchase a 23.7 fluid-ounce bottle of water and a banana for just 83 cents? Well worth the price.
3:07 p.m. – Entering Spanish Fork Canyon on U.S. 6. What a beautiful time of year! Oak trees, quakies, and other shrubs are turning various shades of yellow, orange and red. Bus driver Rex says to Christiansen, “You’ve got perfect weather for a football game.” The coach agrees.
3:45 p.m. – Complete silence on the bus as all the players try to get a little sleep. Christiansen lays back on the bench seat, but trying to sleep is futile. “I don’t think I’ve slept five minutes on a bus in my entire adult life,” he says.
4:40 p.m. – After three and a half hours, the buses pull into Emery High School. Time to get busy. For the next hour, players need to get dressed and taped up. Skill players have to be on the field by 5:45 to run some drills. The cheerleaders, led by one of the team captains, Kenadi Bigelow, don’t need two hours to get ready. So they decide to check out the school and get something to eat before heading to the football field.
4:55 p.m. – Christiansen likes to check out the field conditions before the game, so he and several assistant coaches wander over to the stadium. He is surprised to find a strange mound at midfield. It’s roughly the width of the hashmarks and about 15 yards long. It’s a noticeable raised bump in the field. But it’s much larger than just a bump. Christiansen says, “It looks like they buried a horse out there.”
5:00 p.m. – First sighting of the Emery football team. It’s Senior Night for the Spartans, so they gather on the south end of the field for a team photo. Christiansen and Emery head coach Jon Faimalo chat briefly about whatever head coaches chat about.
5:19 p.m. – The first Morgan High fans arrive at the stadium: Harley and Amy Watkins, parents of linebacker Connor Watkins. With more than 90 minutes to kill before game time and every seat available to choose from, the Watkins’ settle into the top row of the bleachers. Eventually, they help the Emery cheerleaders hang up a “Welcome Morgan” sign.
5:45 p.m. – Right on time, the Trojan players arrive on the field for pre-game drills and warmups. The drills consist of running backs and receivers running routes while quarterbacks fire passes to them. Punters and kickers are also getting loose. Meanwhile, athletic trainer Mackenzie Sammons starts taping the ankles and wrists of several players, including junior receiver Tyson Hurd, who’s been nursing a sore ankle. This is Sammons’ second year at MHS. The BYU graduate can be found at nearly all varsity games, but football and soccer are where she’s needed most.
6:18 p.m. – After a brief return to the locker room for the coaches’ pre-game pep talk, the Trojans head down the hallway, ready for battle. The energy is palpable. They’re definitely ready to play some football.
6:52 p.m. – Coaches and players from both teams line up for the National Anthem. No kneelers here.
7:03 p.m. – Just three minutes after kickoff, Morgan quarterback Jacob Stephens finds Bronson Neuenschwander open for a 28-yard touchdown pass. 7-0 Morgan. Over in the bleachers, it looks like between 80-100 fans have made the 192-mile trip from Morgan to cheer on the Trojans.
7:24 p.m. – Stephens with another TD pass, this time to sophomore Porter Giles. It was a beautiful play. One of Morgan’s wide receivers runs a slant pattern toward the middle of the field, taking both Emery defenders with him. Meanwhile, Giles sprints out of the backfield to the area now vacated by the two defenders and Stephens finds him wide open for a 64-yard touchdown pass. Bad snap on the extra point. 13-0.
7:39 p.m. – Stephens again. This time a 15-yard pass to Hurd, a terrific floater just over the outstretched arms of the Emery defensive back. Once Hurd comes off the field, he’s done for the game. No need to push it any further with a nagging ankle injury. After the game he says that it’s better to miss most of one game than the rest of the season. 19-0.
7:58 p.m. – Emery finally gets on the board on a 15-yard touchdown pass, Kyson Stilson to Jared Snow. The TD came with just 19 seconds left to play in the first half. Nice momentum builder for the Spartans heading into halftime. 19-7.
8:00 p.m. – So much for Emery’s momentum. Neuenschwander takes the ensuing kickoff and returns it 87 yards for a Morgan touchdown. Says Stephens, “I just want to point out that after they scored on our defense, Bronson came up to me and said, ‘Well, it looks like I have to take this one back.’ I said, ‘alright,’ and he did it.”
8:42 p.m. – After a 6-yard TD run by Giles, Stephens finds Jake Rounkles wide open for a 35-yard touchdown pass – his fourth TD pass of the game. It’s the third straight game for Stephens with at least three touchdown passes. 40-7. “We’re finally starting to figure things out,” Stephens says. “We’re finally starting to click. We’ve come a long way from the beginning of the season. It was a whole new offense for us this year, but I think a lot of it has to do with our effort.”
8:58 p.m. – Despite the huge deficit, the Spartans keep fighting – especially Stilson. The junior quarterback throws two more touchdown passes to cut the lead to 40-20. Stilson repeatedly gets pummeled by the Trojans’ defense, particularly Chase Trussell, Jamesen Burraston, Colten Hansen, Gabe Bott and Dallan Rowley. But somehow Stilson keeps completing passes. Very impressive.
9:03 p.m. – Bridger Miller scores on a run from 43 yards out for Morgan’s final points of the game. He finishes with a game-high 140 yards rushing – by far the most by a Trojan runner this season. 47-20. Meanwhile, Morgan’s cheerleaders pump out another round of pushups. Who came up with this silly tradition? It’s not enough that they do seven pushups for each touchdown. No, they must do one pushup for each point, every time the Trojans score. So in this game, it started out with seven pushups. Then 13, then 19, then 25 and so on. By the time the game was over, the girls had each knocked out 184 pushups. During Weber State football games, each time the Wildcats score a touchdown, the Army ROTC cadets run out and do seven pushups. The next touchdown, they do seven again. 184 for high school cheerleaders? Seems a tad excessive.
9:22 p.m. – Final score: Morgan 47, Emery 27. The win gives the Trojans a perfect 3-0 mark in the 3A North region – all of which came on the road. The Trojans gather near midfield to hear from Christiansen. He’s pleased with everything except for giving up 20 points in the fourth quarter. Then he asks Morgan senior team manager Colton Miller if he has anything to say to the team. He does. He tells the team he loves them and wants them to win a championship. The players respond with a huge cheer. They really love Colton.
9:27 p.m. – Christiansen gives an evaluation of his team’s effort. “Overall, I’m pretty happy with how we played,” he says. “We might have subbed a little early, but the younger kids have got to learn too.” On recording three straight road victories: “That’s a good stretch. We’re excited about that. Now we’ve just got to take care of business at home the next two weeks. Hopefully we can protect our own field and play hard for our fans and hopefully come out with a couple of victories to finish it off.”
9:40 p.m. – Players and coaches sit on a flight of stairs just outside the school and eat the dinner that they brought with them. There’s no eating on the school bus.
10:03 p.m. – After a long day and hard-fought win, the buses pull out of Emery High School for the long trip home. The buses are a little lighter on the return trip. Some players are riding home with their parents. One player – sophomore Gage Thornton – heads off with his father, Doug. But they’re not going home. Instead, they’re on their way to Vernal, where they plan to do some sandhill crane hunting on Saturday morning.
11:49 p.m. – The two buses pull up to an empty Maverik store in Springville for a pit stop. The clerk on duty asks this reporter where we’re all from. “Morgan High School,” I reply. “Oh,” she says. “Where’s that?” “In Morgan,” I tell her. “I know that,” she says. “But where’s Morgan?” It’s always fascinating to discover how many people in Utah have no idea where Morgan is.
12:05 a.m. – Christiansen, who probably has dozens of stories at his disposal, tells a very funny experience in which he hit a hole-in-one at Round Valley Golf Course and won an all-expense paid trip for four to Hawaii, which he and his family took last December. Christiansen and his wife, Kandi, had just been to Hawaii for the first time the previous April. “It took me 43 years to get to Hawaii,” he says. “Who would have thought I’d go there twice in one year?”
1:29 a.m. – More than 12 hours after starting the trip, the two school buses finally pull into Morgan High School, carrying dozens of exhausted students and coaches. It’s amazing to think they have the energy to do this week after week. But everyone is home safe. And it’s a good thing too because the next day is the Homecoming Dance. Just another day in the life of a Morgan High School student.