by Scott Boyle
When Barkley Christensen took the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, it looked to be San Juan’s day for fine offensive execution last Saturday in the 2A state football semifinal game against South Summit at SUU.
But after the sweet return was called back on a penalty, the Broncos seem to become all butterfingered in the face of a stout SS defense.
Christensen, who has completed 65 percent of his passes his senior year for 20 TDs and only four interceptions, uncharacteristically tossed three interceptions in the first quarter and also turned the ball over on a fumble to the aggressive and determined Wildcat defense.
But the Broncos showed their heart and the vaunted Bronco defense, number one in the entire state in scoring defense, and despite South Summit having great field position, only allowed one touchdown to keep within striking distance.
South Summit scored with 9:39 left in the first half on a 14-yard touchdown run. The Broncos blocked the extra point try and it was 6-0. Could’ve been worse.
Bronz Eldredge led the Bronco defensive charge with 11 tackles, along with Logan Meyer (nine with two tackles for loss), Brett Laws (eight) and Mason Shumway (seven).
Bobby Bowring returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to the South Summit 46, only to have a fumble give the ball right back to the Wildcats. The Bronco defense held and forced a punt, but SS picked up the first down on a fake punt and were back in business.
Two South Summit penalties and an incomplete pass later and South Summit lined up to punt again. This time a bad snap gave the Broncos the ball on the South Summit 40 yard line with just four minutes left in the half.
Ammon Mitchell carried the ball for 14 yards, but two short runs and a fumbled snap later, the Broncos faced fourth and ten yards to go for a first down with two minutes to go in the half.
Christensen dropped back to pass, and as the pocket closed on him, squeezed up the middle, made a Wildcat defender fall over himself and dashed into the endzone for a 26 yard TD. After the extra point by Logan Meyer with 1:51 left, the Broncos found themselves in the lead, 7-6, despite all the adversity.
That was short lived, as the South Summit offense, aided by a 46-yard dash, moved right down the field and kicked a field goal as time ran out in the half, putting the Broncos down at halftime for the first time all year.
Coach Lee’s halftime speech was just right for the defense, as they completely shut down the determined Wildcat offense the second half, forcing punts on the first two SS drives.
Then came the break the Broncos were looking for. Ammon Mitchell stepped in front of a Caden Christensen SS pass at the SS 44 yard line and the Broncos went to work.
After a 14-yard pass completion to Mitchell, deja vu-ishly, the Broncos found themselves facing a fourth and three on that same lucky 26 yard line, as in the first half.
Christensen again went back to pass, scrambled around a bit looking for an open receiver, but this time lofted a tantalizing pass to fiery Bobby Bowring near the goal line.
The diminutive Bowring outlept the eager Wildcat defenders for the ball and fell into the endzone with 1:52 left in the third quarter to put the Broncos up for good. Christensen’s shovel pass on the extra point try to Logan Meyer was good and the final score was set, 15-9.
The Wildcats couldn’t put together a drive in the fourth quarter and when Mitchell intercepted another SS pass with 40 seconds left, the Broncos had their semifinal win.
Christensen was still 10 for 19 in the passing department for 124 yards, in addition to 52 rushing yards. Mitchell added 41 yards rushing while Bowring had 58 yards on four catches.
Lee, in his 10th season as Bronco head coach, has a 96-18 record as a head coach, including an astonishing 54-3 the last five years and three state titles. This is his fifth state championship game in ten years.
Lee explained how his team found a way to win when they were down at halftime for the first time all year, “Wow! I think there are times you allow great players the opportunity to find themselves and make the mental adjustments on their own. There was little we could say at halftime that wouldn’t reinforce the mistakes that we had made thus far so little was said.
“We discussed adjustments we need to make, reviewed plays that were hurting us and working for us and left the mental adjustments up to them.
“I think (and that is a scary thing on its own, me thinking, that is) too many coaching changes and alterations just makes things worse. We are dealing with 17 and 18 year old young men, at best, and want them to act and react like adults.
“At the end of the day this is simply just a game, though it is one of the most important games they are involved with at this time, life will go on tomorrow and the sun will come up so they need to have the best opportunity to succeed and hope they have fun doing it.
“Manti has a great tradition for football and they have super players and are coached very well. So we will do exactly what we do every week, work a little harder every day and above all grin till our faces crack. We are doing what we love for one more week, who wouldn’t want to trade places with us? Man I love my job, my assistant coaches, our players, our fans.”
The Broncos now make their 13th trip to the state 2A football finals and third in four years.
At Pleasant Grove High School at 11 a.m. on Saturday, the Broncos face the defending 2A champs, Manti Templars, a first time opponent for the Broncos in the finals, although they have met six times in the playoffs.
The Broncos are 6-6 in those finals. The last time the Broncos played the Templars was in 2008, when the Templars ended San Juan’s undefeated season in the semis 26-13. The two teams have played 14 times over the years. The Broncos own a 9-5 series lead.