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High school football: Gunnison Valley football having a special season

Residents in the Gunnison area were used to seeing their team losing by a lot, so a 19-0 score in the second quarter of a homecoming game at Gunnison Valley High School wasn’t a new feeling.

That feeling didn’t last too long. The Bulldogs had been beaten too many times for too long; they had lost to their rival, the North Sevier Wolves, seven years in a row.

Despite being down by three touchdowns midway through the first half, for the rest of the Bulldogs’ game against the Wolves, they proved what they’ve been proving since Week 1 —that after 32 years, it’s finally Gunnison Valley’s turn.

The Bulldogs scored two quick touchdowns late in the second quarter and pulled ahead by one in the second half, then held strong on defense to the end to complete a 20-point comeback and beat the Wolves, 20-19, last Friday night. The win made the Bulldogs 2-0 in the 1A North and moved them to an overall record of 5-1, a mark not met since 2005.

“It feels great when you’re putting in the hard work and you’re here all summer, which I am and the kids are,” Gunnison Valley coach Patrick King said. “When you’re working that way as a team and things start to click, and you’re getting that positive result, of course it feels great.”

In Gunnison Valley’s 32-year football history, the program amassed a record of 84-224 leading up to the 2022 season. The Bulldogs have never won a state title or even a region title, and a 7-4 season in 2005 was their only winning season in school history up to now.

On that Friday game, in a packed stadium, even North Sevier could see the difference in the Bulldogs this year.

“They currently have a team that believes in each other and have bought into Coach King’s program,” Wolves coach Wyatt Mason said. “King has done a good job being patient and allowing for it to develop over the past few years.”

What’s happening at Gunnison Valley is special to not only the players, but to the community at large. The town of roughly 3,500 residents may be more invested in its baseball, as its nine state championships would attest, but as athletic director Rhett Jackson, who is a former coach of the football team, said, seeing the boys on the gridiron succeed usually sets the tone of a great school year, and the whole community can feel the positivity.

“It’s amazing what a good football season can do to start your school year off,” Jackson said. “It just really has had a positive impact on our school and the community at large. The boys on our football team come from all the communities in our valley, and it really is a synergistic sport that permeates all of the program.”

The timing with which Gunnison Valley finally started to see success oddly came after the department’s decision in early August to commit as the seventh team of Utah’s first 8-player football playoff bracket at the end of this season. Ironically, if the playoffs started next Friday, the Bulldogs would be playing in the 8-player bracket when they could have occupied the No. 2 spot in the 1A playoffs.

The Bulldogs qualified to play 8-player football because they had been in the bottom three of the RPI for three years straight, but Jackson’s impetus to go for 8-player ball wasn’t just about competing. Rather, Gunnison Valley’s roster size of roughly 25 created a concern about depth, especially after last year’s team with roughly 35-40 players dealt with so many injuries that many freshmen were playing varsity by the final game of the season.

“The odds of our key players, who all play both ways and on special teams, being able to make it through a full season healthy, it just seemed at the time the right decision to make,” Jackson said.

The only 8-player game the Bulldogs have played so far this season turned out to be one of their toughest games, as they struggled early in Week 3 against the Rich Rebels who had already played a few 8-player games prior to the matchup. Nevertheless, Gunnison Valley pulled it together in the second half with an incredible five-touchdown game by senior Bryson Sorensen, who ran in the fifth in overtime for the walk-off. Bryson is a three-year starter, one of a small senior class that has played its whole varsity experience under King.

Brian Sorensen, Bryson’s dad, said the team has come together more than they ever have, and for parents of those kids, parents who have seen their kids lose over and over again, the happiness is palpable.

“I don’t know how to describe it, to be honest,” Brian said. “It’s a proud moment…As a parent, you get behind them and caught up in the same emotions with them. It’s just an honor, more than anything, to be able to share that with a kid.”

Key players for Gunnison Valley have fueled an exceptionally good offense this year. After fielding the lowest-scoring offense in 1A last season, the Bulldogs are averaging 34.5 points per game, second-best in 1A and top-20 in the state. Sorensen and fellow senior Tyrek Hopkins have combined for 11 rushing touchdowns, and junior quarterback Tyson Tucker already has 10 passing touchdowns to only two interceptions, more scoring throws in a season than any other quarterback in King’s tenure.

The Bulldogs have plenty more football to play, particularly with a tough road matchup against Duchesne this coming Friday. Since the team has opted not to play its game against Layton Christian, Jackson said, the Bulldogs will wrap up their region slate with North Summit. Then, they essentially have a dress rehearsal against Water Canyon in the final week, playing their second 8-player game of the year before getting into the playoffs, where they’ll be a heavy favorite to win it all,

Gunnison Valley’s ability to contend is in no small part because of what King pointed out as the newest ingredient in Gunnison Valley’s recipe for success.

“More than anything, you’re seeing the power of hope.”

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