The Monticello Buckaroos overcame a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter, scoring 21 straight points to defeat the Grand County Red Devils 29-20 on Friday, Aug. 21, in Moab.
The Red Devils had just taken advantage of a Monticello special team’s blunder to extend their lead to 20-8 midway through the third quarter when the Buckaroos were able to respond and seize the momentum, which they were able to maintain for the rest of the contest.
The Buckaroos had set up to punt on fourth down and four yards to go from their own 37-yard line when their punter dropped the ball on the snap, picked it up and scrambled, but was brought down for a seven-yard loss and a turnover on downs. On the next play, Red Devil sophomore quarterback Josh Jones connected with senior tight end Seth Holyoak for a 28-yard gain, followed by a two-yard touchdown run by senior Dalton McElhaney.
Grand appeared to have thwarted Monticello on the ensuing drive as senior safety Brendan Bennett drilled Monticello’s Nolan Freestone after he caught a quick slant on fourth down, but the officials measured and determined Freestone gained just enough yards to convert the first down.
The Red Devils forced another fourth down and Monticello again converted as Thomas Anderson gained four yards on fourth-and-2. The Buckaroos capped off the 14-play drive with a 26-yard touchdown run from senior Andrew Torres in the second play of the fourth quarter, drawing the score to 20-15 in Grand’s favor.
Grand football coach Dennis Wells said of the Freestone pass that Monticello may have gotten a favorable start, as he thought Bennett had stopped him about a yard short of the marker.
“They were pretty fortunate,” he said. “I thought Bennett had him stopped, but they got a good spot. That was a critical play in the game.”
After the Buckaroos forced a three-and-out by the Red Devil offense, they took advantage of the inexperience of Grand’s defense on a 42-yard counter play to set up a one-yard scoring run, claiming the lead for the first time in the game at 22-20.
After the Red Devil offense struggled to another three-and-out, the Buckaroos broke free on the counter play again as Torres scampered for a 37-yard touchdown run, extending their lead to the final score of 29-20.
“We’ve got to learn to put teams away,” Wells said. “… When you have a team down, put the nail in the coffin – don’t let ’em back in.”
Wells said the Red Devils’ inability in the second half on both offense and defense came down to execution.
“I’m mad at myself for not working in practice on stopping that counter play,” he said. “We were working on ourselves installing our new offense.”
Youth and inexperience contributed to the second-half issues, which Wells said would improve as the year progresses.
“Of (the six offensive linemen in our rotation), four of them haven’t played varsity football before,” he said.
The Red Devils were also missing junior starting quarterback Taylor Horton. Wells said that Jones, who started in his place, executed well in the first half, but made some errors in the second half, keeping the ball and running straight into the defense a couple of times when he should have handed the ball to the running back. As a team, the Red Devils also fumbled the ball several times, fortunately only having one such fumble recovered by Monticello.
“We’ve got to take care of the football,” Wells said.
The Red Devils opened the scoring midway through the first quarter, when Jones connected with Bennett on a 20-yard touchdown pass to go up 6-0 after the snap on the two-point-conversion attempt sailed over Jones’ head.
The two teams traded turnovers for the rest of the quarter as sophomore Nick Downard recovered a Monticello fumble, Buckaroo junior Shandon Bradford intercepted a pass from Jones the bounced off Bennett’s hands, and senior Joseph Shumway intercepted returned the favor intercepting a Monticello offering. The Red Devils marched the ball into the red zone before failing to convert fourth down and four yards to go from the 12-yard line. They got the ball back after a Monticello three-and-out before McElhaney capped off a seven-play, 44-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. The drive was highlighted by a 15-yard catch by Bennett and a 22-yard run by Shumway. Bennett caught a seven-yard pass from Jones after a false start penalty to convert for two points, putting Grand up 14-0.
Shortly before halftime, the Buckaroos sacked Jones for an 11-yard loss on first down from the 13-yard line. Two plays later, McElhaney was tackled in the end zone for a safety to give the Buckaroos their first points at 14-2. The Buckaroos scored on a 41-yard pass from Brayson Wilcox to Torres shortly before halftime to pull to 14-8 after a missed extra point.
Next on Grand’s slate is Rifle, Colorado, whom the Red Devils will play in an away game on Friday, Aug. 28, at 7 p.m. The Bears lost in the Colorado 3A state title game in 2014, their second appearance in three seasons. Last year, they defeated the Red Devils in Moab by a 56-6 score.
“They’re one of the best teams we’ll play this year,” Wells said. “Our goal is to keep it as close as we can. If we’re close in the fourth quarter and we’ve got a chance to win, it’ll be nice. (With three more preseason games to go before region play begins), we’ve got to keep working on ourselves.”
Red Devils allow 21 fourth-quarter points, squander 12-point lead
“We’ve got to learn to put teams away … When you have a team down, put the nail in the coffin – don’t let ’em back in.”