The Red Devils jumped out to an early lead, then made key stops late to hold on to a 48-33 upset victory at home over Millard in the UHSAA State 2A quarterfinals on Friday, Oct. 26.
With the win, Grand County advanced to the state semifinals, where they will play against Manti on Saturday, Nov. 3 at 11 a.m. at SUU’s Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City.
The Red Devils entered the fourth quarter with a commanding 16-point lead at 35-19, before Millard mounted a furious rally, starting with a 56-yard touchdown strike from Tanner Slavens to Jeffrey Robison followed by a two-point conversion, pulling within one score at 35-27.
Millard star Jesse Rhodes intercepted a pass from Jacob Francis on the Red Devils’ ensuing drive before moving the ball methodically down the field 81 yards to pull score the potential tying touchdown with 2:08 remaining in regulation. Grand County’s defense, however, stopped the two-point conversion attempt, a run up the middle, to cling to a 35-33 lead.
“It’s good for a young team to experience that, the fighting all the way to the end,” Grand County football coach Dennis Wells said.
Francis said the Red Devils drew on experience they gained earlier in the year when they had to stop Richfield at the goal line late to come away with a win.
“It wasn’t the first time we had to come up with a goal-line stop; we did it against Richfield,” Francis said. “Everyone did their job, ‘I got your back: you get mine.’”
After a failed onside kick from the Eagles, The Red Devils converted a fourth-down play from the 32-yard line for a touchdown on a pass from Francis to Wesley Rodda, putting Grand County up 42-33.
“Wesley’s been open all season long on that back side,” Francis said of the score. “My first two reads were covered so I looked back and sure enough he was open.
“He trusted his arm and trusted my hands,” Rodda said.
Aaron Randall intercepted a pass from Slavens and returned it for a score on the next play from scrimmage to put the game away at 48-33.
After the Eagles had a touchdown on the game’s opening kickoff called back because of a penalty, the Red Devils capitalized on their opportunity seize momentum, scoring on their first play from scrimmage with a 55-yard halfback pass from Koi Cook to Aaron Lewis. The Red Devils tacked on another first quarter touchdown to go up 14-0 when Jacob Francis connected with Kamron Call from 15 yards out for the first of his four touchdown passes.
“We decided to hurry up and try to hit them quick,” Grand County football coach Dennis Wells said. “We took some chances early on to get the lead, then we had to fight to keep it.”
After Rhodes got loose for a 60-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 14-7, Cook answered back with a 15-yard run of his own to once again give Grand County a two-score advantage.
Millard cut the deficit to 21-13 before intermission when Robison broke free for a 40-yard scoring run, but Francis connected with Cook from 15-yards out to give Grand County a 28-13 lead.
Millard nearly pulled within one score again when Jeremy Aleman rushed for a 3-yard touchdown with 2:32 left in the third quarter, but Preston Walston blocked the point-after attempt, keeping the score at 28-19.
Grand County continued to be aggressive on the next play from scrimmage with a touchdown strike from Francis to Rodda from 35 yards out to head into the decisive fourth quarter with a 35-19 lead. Junior Cameron Taylor set up the score with a long kick return in which he nearly scored before finally being upended at the 35 yard line.
The Red Devils, not known for passing the ball, amassed 333 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Francis completed 16-of-22 passes for 278 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Grand County had a pair of 100-yard receivers as Aaron Lewis caught five passes for 116 yards and one touchdown and Wesley Rodda caught five passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
“We started passing and they couldn’t stop us,” Francis said. “We took what they gave us.”
Cook and Francis also fared well in the running game; Francis gained 74 yards on 15 carries and Cook earned 64 yards on seven carries.
Cook collected 14 tackles, an interception and a blocked field goal defensively. Stefan Secrest added 11 tackles and Francis collected 10 tackles and a fumble recovery. Walston, playing with a separated shoulder, pressured the quarterback repeatedly, earning a sack to go along with his blocked extra point.
Rhodes gained 233 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries and Aleman rushed 16 times for 92 yards and a touchdown. The Red Devils, however, only allowed the Eagles to complete two passes in the game, both long passes to Robison, one from Slavens and one from Rhodes.
“Our defensive backs took care of business tonight,” Walston said. “They got beat deep one play, but other than that they were on it.”
Walston said his goal was to go all out in the final home game of his high school career.
“I was just going to play my heart out and leave it all on the field and I think I did that,” he said. “Me being injured I had to leave it up to my team to take care of business.”
Grand County was a 22-point underdog heading into the game, according to the Deseret News, which Wells said was deserved, based on the stats to this point in the season.
“If you look at the stats, they’ve scored more points than we have and given up fewer.” he said. “But, the game still has to be played. I never once thought this was our last game.
“Nobody in the state expected us to win this game,” Rodda said. “We showed them we deserve the No. 2 spot and it wasn’t a fluke.”
It doesn’t get any easier for Grand County in the semifinals as they play the defending state champion Manti Templars, who remained undefeated against 2A opponents, following a 38-7 shellacking of Beaver in the state quarterfinals, holding the normally prolific Beaver rushing attack to only 49 yards defensively while spreading the ball around offensively, with five different Templars scoring touchdowns.
“Manti is going to be tough,” Wells said. “They and San Juan are good on both sides of the ball…We can’t count on getting in a shootout against teams like Manti and San Juan. We’ve got to slow their offense down because we’re not going to get a lot of touchdowns.”