Grand seniors Trent Elmore (left) and Brody Williams pose with the 2A South championship trophy alongside GCHS graduate Lucas Crain after defeating San Juan 23-8 in the regular season finale to win the region title. The Red Devils earned a first-round bye in the state playoffs, and will host the winner between 2A North No. 4 American Leadership Academy and 2A South No. 5 South Sevier (Thursday, Oct. 18, 5 p.m., at ALA) in the state quarterfinals. [Photo by Tim Chappell / Moab Sun News]

The Grand County High School (GCHS) football team controlled the second half and made some big plays to come from behind to beat San Juan 23-8 in Moab in the regular season finale, winning the 2A South championship in the process.

The Red Devils found themselves down 8-3 at halftime after San Juan took advantage of poor Grand tackling and a fourth-down pass interference penalty against GCHS to score on a 1-yard run by Corbin Palmer less than a minute before halftime. The Red Devils got on the board earlier in the quarter after a scoreless first quarter, on a 20-yard field goal from sophomore Dante Wells.

After punting in their first drive of the second half, then forcing a San Juan punt, the Red Devils took back the lead when senior Corbin Arbon broke free on a 32-yard touchdown run, giving GCHS a 10-8 lead.

“Seeing nothing but green grass in front of you, it’s the best feeling ever,” Arbon said.

The Red Devils forced another three-and-out, getting near-interceptions on consecutive plays, to get the ball back and score on a 1-yard run by junior Bryant Troutt early in the fourth quarter. San Juan blocked Wells’ extra point to maintain a one-score differential at 16-8. In two drives, including the punts, the Broncos had the ball for eight plays in the third quarter.

The Red Devils forced another punt, but gave the ball up on a turnover on downs as Arbon was stopped inches short on a fourth-and-two running play. On the ensuing San Juan drive, however, GCHS senior Andrew Hansen intercepted a pass in the middle of the field and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown, icing the game at 23-8 to seal the region-clinching win.

“There’s no words to describe it,” Hansen said of the play. “You’ve got the team on your back in that moment. There’s no greater feeling.”

Ball control and kickoff coverage were a couple of keys to Grand’s ability to win as the Red Devils ran the ball 55 times in the game. Troutt had 91 yards on 21 carries, senior Trent Elmore had 83 yards on 21 carries, and Arbon had 77 yards on 13 carries. Kickoff coverage had been one of Grand’s weaknesses most of the season, but after making some personnel adjustments, the Red Devils didn’t allow a return farther than the 25-yard line, helping them win the field-position battle much of the game.

“(Another) one of the things we did well was not to give up the big play,” GCHS football coach Dennis Wells said. “Traditionally, San Juan is able to score out of nowhere. Our defense did a great job.”

The Red Devils minimized the Broncos’ passing game, getting a pair of sacks from senior Jarom Shumway in addition to interceptions by Hansen and junior Brayden Cloud, as well as more than half a dozen other pass break-ups. Senior Chris Thompson was Grand’s leading tackler, notching 10 stops.

“We got ourselves in a position where if we make it that far, we don’t play South Summit until the state title game, and that’s what we wanted,” Wells said. “The team learned from the Enterprise game (a 21-16 loss on Sept. 28) and got themselves in the position they want to be in.”

The UHSAA Utah State 2A football tournament begins this week with crossover play-in games. American Leadership Academy (ALA) placed fourth in 2A North and will host South Sevier, which placed fifth in 2A South, on Thursday, Oct. 18, at 5 p.m. The winner of the game will travel to Moab to play Grand on Friday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m., in the state quarterfinals. Grand beat ALA on the road 56-14 on Aug. 31, and beat South Sevier 34-14 in the Red Devils’ homecoming game on Sept. 14. Both teams finished the regular season with 4-5 records.

“South Sevier I think is the better team,” Wells said. “They played everyone close and had a chance to win almost every game they were in. They’re a team you can’t overlook” because they’re capable of pulling off the upset.

Hansen said that winning the region title is “super important and it gives us leverage,” while Arbon said it was the “best feeling ever.”

“I can’t wait (for the playoffs),” Arbon said. “I’m so hyped.”

Red Devils play in state quaterfinals in Moab on Oct. 26

“Seeing nothing but green grass in front of you, it’s the best feeling ever.”

When: Friday, Oct. 26, 4 p.m.

Where: Grand County High School football field, 608 S. 400 East