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Trojans place second in quest for state championship

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It just had to be Juan Diego.

Other than a stunning 29-point win over Juan Diego during the regular season last year, the Trojans have had very little luck against the football-heavy private school from Draper. It was unfortunately much of the same on Saturday as the Soaring Eagle handed the Trojans their first loss in eight games to capture the 3A state championship, 45-20, at Weber State University’s Stewart Stadium. It was the Soaring Eagle’s third straight state title and eighth in the last 15 years. One of those championships was a 28-13 win over Morgan in 2015.

Juan Diego quarterback Zach Hoffman was everywhere on the field, and nothing the Trojans did was able to slow him down. The senior completed seven-of-10 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball 19 times for another 133 yards and three TDs. He even caught a 76-yard pass early in the first quarter. Throw in seven yards on a punt return and Hoffman accounted for 378 yards, which was more yardage than the Trojans had as a team.

The Trojans were heavy underdogs against the bigger Soaring Eagle, and the odds got worse only moments into the game.

On the Trojans’ first possession, the Soaring Eagle forced a fumble deep in Morgan territory. Juan Diego recovered the ball on the Trojans’ 13-yard line. Two plays later it was 7-0. Barely a minute of time had run off the clock.

To the Trojans’ credit, they didn’t hang their heads. They immediately responded with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by Jacob Stephens finding Jake Rounkles in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass.

But any momentum the Trojans gained was immediately taken away. On the first play of Juan Diego’s second drive, it ran a trick-play double reverse in the backfield. Wide receiver Dallen Davis ended up with the ball on the second handoff.

In the meantime, Hoffman, the quarterback, sprinted downfield into wide open space. Davis heaved the ball to Hoffman, who caught it and raced 76 yards toward the Morgan goal line. Jay Carrigan managed to force Hoffman out of bounds at the 4-yard line, but two plays later, Hoffman was in the end zone for his second TD of the day.

And that was kind of the story of the game. Every time the Trojans started to gain some footing, the Soaring Eagle responded with a huge play.

In the second quarter, Hoffman found bruising running back Hunter Easterly over the middle for a 72-yard TD pass. Just before halftime, Tristen Ronozzi ran the ball for a 45-yard touchdown. In the fourth quarter, it was Hoffman again, this time from 38 yards out. It was one big play after another. In all, the Soaring Eagle amassed 557 yards of total offense, averaging nine yards per play.

“When you’re playing Juan Diego, you just can’t make mistakes,” MHS coach Kovi Christiansen said. “You can’t beat yourself. We just didn’t play as clean as we needed to. We would have had to play a perfect game to win. And then you get out of your element because you’re behind, and you’re trying to push and make some things happen. But credit my boys. They kept playing hard.”

Morgan got a three-yard touchdown run from Porter Giles late in the second quarter and a 34-yard TD reception by Rounkles in the fourth.  But by that point, it was a little too late.

Stephens had a nice game, completing 20-of-38 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns. Rounkles ended up with 108 yards receiving, while Talon Polad had four catches for 91 yards. Tyson Hurd finished with six receptions for 60 yards.

Running back Bridger Miller, who had really come to life in the last several games for Morgan, was held to just 39 yards on 12 carries. Stopping Miller was clearly a focal point for the Soaring Eagle defense.

A play that really knocked the wind out of the Trojans was a pass from Stephens to Bronson Neuenschwander midway through the first quarter. It was a beautiful catch by Neuenschwander, and he turned upfield for a 38-yard gain. But at the end of the play, he was tackled awkwardly and appeared to injure his knee. To add insult to injury, he fumbled the ball and it was recovered by the Soaring Eagle. Neuenschwander, who had already been battling an ankle injury, left the game and never returned.

While it’s disappointing to lose in the state championship game, Christiansen had nothing but praise for his team, which defied expectations by making it as far as it did.

“I’m pretty proud of these guys,” an emotional Christiansen said. “At the start of the season we lost two kids’ dads, and they just got better. They jelled together, they loved one another. They gave everything for those two kids, and came together as a team. I’m proud of them. I love them.”

It should be noted that at halftime, both Polad and punter Dillon Petty were recognized as members of the academic all-state team. 

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