High school football: In inaugural season of 1A 8-player football, Gunnison Valley outlasts Monticello to win first title

The Gunnison Valley Bulldogs won the school’s first football state championship on Saturday, outlasting Monticello 26-22 to claim the inaugural title in the newly created 1A 8-player classification.

Despite leading 19-0 in the first half, the Bulldogs saw the Buckaroos score the game’s next three touchdowns and briefly take a 22-19 lead with just over eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. 

However, Monticello’s lead was short-lived, as just 17 seconds later, Gunnison scored on its very next play from scrimmage.

The Bulldogs ran a double-pass trick play, with Pearson Judy taking the snap and tossing it across to the left side of the backfield to teammate Tyson Tucker, who then heaved it toward the end zone and into the arms of wide-open receiver Brogan Christensen.

That 50-yard touchdown pass put Gunnison back on top, 25-22. Kicker Andres Valencia’s ensuing PAT attempt was good, giving the Bulldogs a four-point cushion with 7:44 left.

Monticello advanced the ball more than 30 yards on its next possession but lost it on an untimely fumble, with the Bulldogs taking back possession at their own 26-yard line. 

Gunnison was then able to pick up a few key first downs and run out the remaining time on the clock to clinch the title.

Gunnison head coach Patrick King said that when his team briefly lost the lead in the fourth quarter, “A shiver was going down my spine there.”

“We knew they wouldn’t quit. They never do,” King said of Monticello. “Every time we play them, it’s really tough.

“Hats off to them. They did every single thing that they needed to do to win. We just got the ball last. If they would have gotten it last, and it might have been a different story. They’re a heck of a program. They’re champions, too, in my book.”

Gunnison scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, advancing the ball 58 yards on nine plays, capped off by a 17-yard TD pass from Tucker to Bryson Sorensen.

Then at the end of the first quarter, Pearson scored on an 18-yard TD run. That was followed by an 11-yard scoring run by Tyrek Hopkins midway through the second quarter, giving the Bulldogs a 19-0 lead.

Hopkins ended up as the game’s leading rusher, finishing with 161 yards on 21 carries.

But Monticello didn’t give up. The Buckaroos notched a TD score in each of the next three quarters, starting with a 36-yard pass from quarterback Jay McDonald to receiver Easton Young late in the second.

Then, with 7:33 left in the third, Monticello’s Robert Morrison scored on an 8-yard run up the middle, bringing the Buckaroos within five points, 19-14.

That set up the exciting back-and-forth sequence in which the lead changed hands twice in less than 20 seconds during the fourth quarter.

King, who managed to narrowly evade getting doused by his celebrating players with a cooler full of ice water on an already freezing night, said that while his team typically doesn’t pass the ball much, it did make a couple big completions when it needed them.

“(Monticello) really did a lot to give our run game trouble, which is hard,” he said. “I mean, we’ve got like 3,400 yards rushing on the year. We’re a good running team, and they really worked hard to be able to slow it down.

“It’s complementary football. It’s pretty tough for somebody to cover both the run and the pass. We can throw it, too, but we’ve got to do it at the right time.”

Saturday night, Gunnison finished with a slim edge in total yards gained (324-319) and time of possession (24:46 to 23:14).

Both teams finished with overall records of 8-4.

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