For the limited time that a special teams unit has on the football field, the Morgan Trojans and the Grantsville Cowboys saw just how effectively that unit can make or break a game plan.
In Morgan’s case, special teams made the Trojans’ night in a big way.
Morgan had a packed house that would put most 6A teams to shame on Friday night, and in a battle between two undefeated squads in 3A, the No. 3 Trojans toppled No. 1 Grantsville in a statement win, 38-20, as they led from start to finish and ultimately ran away with a 17-point third quarter.
“It was awesome to see them ball out tonight,” Morgan coach Jared Barlow said. “They did a great job.”
The game was a rematch of the 3A state championship game from last year, which Grantsville won, 14-10. Morgan’s players clearly had revenge on their minds, and the water cooler they dumped on Barlow after the game clearly indicated how sweet it was. Barlow remained focused on what lies ahead.
“I don’t necessarily know that it’s this game that we ultimately want,” Barlow said. “There are goals that we have as a team, and this was one of the games on the way to achieving that goal. This was a big game … our focus was on making sure we take care of business and work towards our goal.”
The Trojans held a narrow 14-13 lead at halftime, but in the third quarter, their defense clamped down on the Cowboys and held them without a first down. That effort was complemented to devastating effect by Morgan’s senior punt returner, Payton Brooks, who returned all three Grantsville punts in the third quarter into Cowboy territory.
“It was one of the struggles in the first half, we talked about that (at halftime),” Barlow said. “We just talked about the importance of special teams. We do a great job of practicing that. We talked with Payton about our confidence in him. He did a great job, he worked through it, and he put us in great field position.”
Morgan senior quarterback Nick Despain completed 17 of 27 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, his seventh straight game with two or more touchdown passes. He also carried the ball nine times for 44 yards. The Trojans totaled 186 rushing yards, led by senior Gunnar Lish who had 17 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
The Grantsville offense struggled mightily against Morgan’s top scoring defense as the Cowboys finished with only 169 total yards. Senior quarterback Hunter Bell completed 7 of 21 passes for 70 yards, and he ran for a 47-yard score near the end of the game. Senior running back Gabe Mouritsen had 12 carries for 36 yards and a touchdown.
Grantsville coach Kody Byrd said that Morgan simply wanted the win more than his players. “They brought the passion, they brought intensity, and we didn’t respond to it,” Byrd said. “We just gotta get better and come back. We’re gonna see them again at some point.”
The defenses for both teams came to play in the first half, forcing a 3-and-out each way to start. After that, Morgan went to work, eating up chunk yardage on each play of its second drive. The Trojans scored first with a 1-yard touchdown by sophomore Jett Salmon up the middle.
Grantsville answered back in a big way with a long kick return down inside Morgan’s 15-yard line. Two plays later, senior Ethan Rainer punched in a 2-yard scoring run up the middle, but the Trojans kept the lead when Bell’s rollout conversion attempt fell incomplete.
Fumbles played a role near the end of the first quarter. First, it was the Trojans who coughed it up when Lish lost the ball on a big run, but after the Cowboys failed to convert on offense, the punt attempt never got off as junior punter Joe Wright lost the ball on fourth down, and Morgan recovered in Cowboy territory.
A few plays later, in the second quarter, the Trojans capitalized as Despain rolled out left and connected with senior Gavin Turner, who toe-tapped inside the endzone for a 9-yard score.
Grantsville answered back with a long drive helped by two big completions from Bell, then the Cowboys trimmed the lead to a point when Mouritsen dragged defenders on third down over the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown.
Shortly before the half ended, Grantsville blocked a 39-yard field goal attempt by Beau Johnson. With 36 seconds to go, the Cowboys got just inside the Morgan 40-yard line, but Aaron Christensen didn’t get enough leg on a 49-yard field goal attempt.
Morgan came out of halftime and reestablished control quickly. The Trojans forced a 3-and-out from the Cowboys, then drove downfield for a 1-yard touchdown from Lish. Morgan started their next possession at the 33-yard line thanks to a punt return from Brooks, but after Grantsville held strong on defense, Johnson buried a 35-yard field goal to give the Trojans a two-possession lead.
Morgan forced another 3-and-out and Brooks got another return inside Grantsville territory. Two plays later, Despain took a shot at the end zone, and Turner hauled in the pass for a 26-yard touchdown, giving the Trojans total control of the game.
Like a broken record, Morgan forced yet another 3-and-out, then Brooks crossed the 50 on the punt return, then Lish capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run at the start of the fourth quarter.
Late in the fourth quarter, Grantsville got a last-gasp score when Bell broke away for 47 yards and a touchdown.
The Trojans and the Juab Wasps, who beat Canyon View, are the only undefeated teams remaining in 3A. Morgan will remain at home next Friday to take on Ogden. Grantsville will return home next Friday to host Union.