Grand senior Dalton McElhaney rushed for four touchdowns, including three in the first quarter, leading the Red Devils to a 53-27 victory over the Gunnison Valley Bulldogs in the first round of the UHSAA Utah State 2A Football Championships on Friday, Oct. 23, in Moab.
McElhaney finished with 174 yards rushing and four touchdowns, while also passing for another score. McElhaney leads 2A with 21 rushing touchdowns and ranks third with 1,018 rushing yards after Friday’s performance.
Grand opened the scoring midway through the first quarter, holding onto the ball for the game’s first seven minutes before they capped off a long drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by McElhaney to go up 7-0. After the Red Devil defense forced a three-and-out, aided by a sack from sophomore Nick Downard, McElhaney added 1-yard touchdown run, extending the advantage to 14-0. After another Bulldog three-and-out followed by a 4-yard punt, McElhaney broke free from 34 yards out for his third score of the opening quarter. The point-after attempt failed and Grand entered the second quarter with a 20-0 lead.
Gunnison connected on a long pass play to begin the second quarter, capping off the drive as Layne Jensen recovered his own fumble in the end zone. The Bulldogs’ point-after was blocked by senior Caleb Howe, leaving the score at 20-6. The Red Devils continued to run at will on their next drive before Downard scored on a 12-yard run. Senior Joseph Shumway intercepted a Gunnison pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown on the next play from scrimmage, and suddenly Grand was up 34-6.
Grand continued to harass Gunnison quarterback Hunter Whitney on the next drive as senior Seth Holyoak sacked him on second down and senior Brandon Secrest sacked him on third down to force another Gunnison punt. The Red Devils capitalized offensively as McElhaney connected with Holyoak on a 25-yard touchdown pass followed by a failed two-point conversion, leaving the score at 40-6. Downard intercepted a Whitney pass on the next drive and returned it to the 13-yard line before Shumway ran it in on second down to give the Red Devils a 46-6 halftime lead.
With the game well in hand, Grand went largely with backups in the second half as Gunnison scored on a 37-yard catch and run by Jensen five minutes into the third quarter. McElhaney scored his fourth and final rushing touchdown on Grand’s next drive to put the score at 53-13 before sitting out while Grand was on offense the rest of the game.
“We were trying to save some of our guys,” coach Dennis Wells said. “We didn’t want anyone getting hurt going into next week.”
Gunnison scored again late in the third quarter on a 47-yard catch by Canyon Caldwell followed by another blocked extra point, leaving the score at 53-19 going into the fourth quarter.
Grand and Gunnison traded turnovers to begin the fourth quarter as the Bulldogs recovered a Grand fumble before senior Cooper Halladay intercepted a Bulldog pass in the end zone. After Grand punted the ball for the first time in the game, the Bulldogs scored their final points on a 34-yard run from Kyler White. The two-point conversion that followed was successful, leading to a 53-27 score.
“Our goal was to control the ball and we did a good job,” Wells said. “We didn’t have to punt until late in the game when we had the young guys in.”
The Red Devils, ranked No. 4 in 2A by the Deseret News, advanced to the quarterfinals at North Summit, the No. 5-ranked team in 2A. The Braves are 6-3 with each loss coming to a team still playing in the 2A playoffs. The Braves lost 13-12 to Enterprise on Sept. 4, 21-17 to No. 2-ranked Beaver on Sept. 11 and 17-7 to No. 1-ranked South Summit on Oct. 15. The Red Devils defeated North Summit 34-13 in the teams’ last meeting in the 2013 state semifinals on Nov. 9, 2013.
The Braves play a similar offense to the Red Devils in that they run the ball often and usually only pass to keep the defense honest.
“They run a lot of dives, blasts, powers and options,” Wells said. “They can throw the ball if they need to.”
Wells said he would rather be ranked below the Braves heading into the game, stating he likes the ‘underdog’ role.
“I think we’re ranked ahead of them because they lost to Enterprise and we beat Enterprise… but they played Beaver a lot tougher than we did (Grand lost 51-0 to Beaver on Oct. 2),” Wells said. “So as far as I’m concerned, we are the underdog. When we play well, we can beat anyone and when we play badly we can lose to anyone. It depends on which team shows up.”
Grand advances to state quarterfinal at North Summit
“Our goal was to control the ball and we did a good job. We didn’t have to punt until late in the game when we had the young guys in.”
When: Friday, Oct. 30, or Saturday, Oct. 31, time to be announced
Where: North Summit High School, 111 E. 100 South, Coalville
Cost: $8 for adults, $5 for students