When the Juab Wasps won the 3A South region coin flip at the end of the season, it’s not likely that they expected to get blown out by Morgan in the semifinal round. But that’s exactly what happened last Friday as the Trojans knocked Juab out of the playoffs with a 34-18 win at Weber State University’s Stewart Stadium.
The win sets up a championship matchup between the Trojans and rival Juan Diego – a rematch of the 2015 state title game. The championship game will be played on Saturday at 2 p.m., also at Weber State.
The game had previously been scheduled to be played in Cedar City on the campus of Southern Utah University. But since both teams are from northern Utah and hoped to avoid the four-plus hour trip down south, they got together and appealed to the Utah High School Activities Association to find a more suitable location. The UHSAA agreed, and the game will now be played at the same site as the 2015 championship game, which was won by Juan Diego.
The Trojans (9-2) are proving to be no pushovers. The win over Juab was their seventh straight victory, and they seem to be improving every time out.
The Wasps were obviously hoping for something different. At the end of the regular season, Juab was tied with both Juan Diego and Summit Academy for the 3A region title. A coin flip was used to break the tie. Juab won the flip, but elected to take the No. 2 seed, which would allow the Wasps to avoid Juan Diego and Summit Academy until the championship game. That bit of strategy turned out to be a bit presumptuous, however, because the Trojans were standing in the way.
Led by Bridger Miller, Jacob Stephens, Talon Polad, Tyson Hurd and a tremendous team defensive effort, the Trojans thrashed the Wasps in every possible way.
After a scoreless first quarter, Miller got things rolling early in the second with a three-yard touchdown run. The TD capped an impressive 14-play, 87-yard drive that consumed more than five minutes of clock.
On the very next play, Morgan’s Brenon Sanders tipped a pass by Juab quarterback Easton Wright. Sophomore Ethan Wheeler reach out and intercepted it and then sprinted 27 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, Morgan found itself up 14-0.
Then, barely three minutes later, Miller scored again from three yards out to give the Trojans a 20-0 lead. The score was set up by a 71-yard pass from Stephens to Polad. Polad finished with a game-high 112 receiving yards. Miller had 116 yards rushing.
“It always scares me to get points that fast,” Morgan coach Kovi Christiansen said. “We did the same thing against Judge. We got up 21-0 and had a huge letdown. Sometimes when they come in bunches like that, it puts me on edge.”
Christiansen was right to feel a little anxious. Late in the second quarter, Juab regained the momentum, scoring two touchdowns before halftime and one more shortly after the third quarter began. But the Wasps’ special teams play allowed the Trojans to keep the lead.
Juab’s first extra point was blocked. After their next TD, the Wasps attempted a two-point conversion, but the Trojans stuffed the run. After the third touchdown, Juab went for two again, but missed on a pass play.
So while the game felt tight for a time, the Trojans were still ahead, and Christiansen made sure to remind his players of that.
“We were still in the game,” he said. “We’ve still got the lead. If they don’t score, they don’t win. That’s all we kept preaching.”
With the score sitting at 20-18 heading into the fourth quarter, Morgan senior linebacker Chase Trussell could feel the pressure. He knew that if the Trojan defense could just keep Juab out of the end zone for one more quarter, the win was theirs.
“For sure there was pressure,” Trussell said. “We were thinking out there, ‘As long as they don’t score, we can win this game.’”
But with 9:10 left to play, Stephens and Hurd put an end to any doubt that the Trojans could hang on. With the ball sitting on the Morgan 46-yard line, Stephens made a perfect pass to Hurd, who caught the ball in stride and outraced the Juab defenders to the end zone for a 54-yard TD reception.
“That play was perfect,” Hurd said. “(Stephens) put it right where it had to be. It was just a great play by our quarterback. It was so cool to know that after that touchdown we were going to state. It was the greatest feeling ever.”
“It was a dogfight,” Stephens added. “Juab was a tough team. But we just kept pounding it and pounding it and eventually something opened up and it allowed for that big play.”
Porter Giles finished the scoring off with a two-yard scoring dive for the Trojans’ fifth touchdown of the day.
“This whole season we’ve kind of hung our hat on some big plays,” Christiansen said. “We had some kids step up when they needed to step up. I’m proud of all of them. We got big plays out of everybody, and they just hung in there and kept swinging the hammer.”
Defensively for the Trojans, Jay Carrigan had 12 tackles, while Jamesen Burraston added 11, including a pair of sacks. Brenon Sanders, Colton Hansen, Gabe Bott, and Trussell were among others who had outstanding games.
“Our defense are absolute studs,” Stephens said. “I love all of them to pieces. They always work hard and play as a team and rally to the ball. That helps us get stops and turnovers.”
The total team effort is something Christiansen was hoping for, and which the Trojans will need as they search for their first state title since 1997. But while Morgan will once again enter the championship game as underdogs, Christiansen wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Keep doubting us,” he said to the swarm of reporters. “I love it.
“We’re going to be excited,” Christiansen added. “We’ve got to kind of keep it under wraps. But these guys were pumped up to play this game. We’re sick of getting disrespected, and bless their heart, they shouldn’t get disrespected anymore.”