San Juan High School head football coach Barkley Christensen doesn’t like homecoming. He says all the special activities and celebrations tend to make football players lose focus and come out sluggish in all the homecoming games he’s been involved with – in years past as a player and now as a coach.
And the Bronco offense did just that last Friday, September 27. But where the offense struggled, the defense finally gave Coach Christensen what he’s been wanting – a dominant effort on the way to their first shutout of the season over the rival Grand County Red Devils.
Grand’s defense also played well. They were prepared for the San Juan offense, taking away passes that have been successful for the Broncos all season and confusing quarterback Shaw Nielson’s reads.
Coach Christensen said the Red Devils were smart and forced him to make adjustments during halftime to finally get consistent offensive production.
The Broncos ran just four plays in a scoreless first quarter – a three-and-out and a fumble – on their own five-yard line. Impressively, the defense held strong for a huge stop.
In the second quarter, San Juan moved the ball into the red zone twice but came up empty. But they did finally punch in the first score when Nielson ran it in from one yard out.
Even after the halftime adjustments, it took some time for the Broncos to get into a rhythm. The first drive of the second half ended in an interception, but the defense stood strong for a stop. They drove into the red zone again, but fumbled. Once again, the defense picked up the slack.
“It just seemed like every time we would drive the field, but we just could not figure out how to get it into the end zone,” Christensen said. “We would either turn it over, we’d get penalties, we would drop passes – we had two dropped passes in the end zone.”
The Broncos managed to score on a short run by Kian Conway with 1:55 remaining in the third quarter to go up 14-0. They followed that up with another Conway TD run just two minutes into the final frame to put the game out of reach.
But the real story in the game for the first time this season was the San Juan defense. Coming into the game, the Broncos had allowed 33.5 points per game. But on Friday they held Grand to just 155 yards of total offense and came up with huge stops when the offense faltered.
Coach Christensen observed, “Moab’s rushing attack is tough and I never thought we’d get a shutout. Our kids played hard and we got them to do what they didn’t want to do – we got them to throw the ball.”
The difference in the game was consistent defensive penetration. “Our defensive line just moving their offensive line back every single play and blowing up holes,” said Christensen. “That was our challenge to them all week…and they answered the call.”
The offense didn’t underperform – they just struggled to finish drives. Nielson completed 22 of 36 pass attempts for 256 yards. Conway rushed for 150 yards and two TDs, and the Broncos tallied 478 yards of total offense.
With the 21-0 win, San Juan improves to 5-2 on the year and they move into sixth place in the 3A UHSAA RPI standings.
It’ll be a showdown for the Region 12 lead when the Broncos welcome the Richfield Wildcats to Blanding this Friday, October 5. The two teams are tied with a 2-0 record in region play, and Coach Christensen expects a challenge.
“If we get this we can take a good strong lead in the region,” he said. “This week’s huge.” Kickoff is at 7 p.m. on the San Juan High School football field.