Broncos keep Manti at arms length for first postseason football win in three years
The San Juan High School football team came into their state tournament matchup against Manti this past Friday with an 11-6 all-time record over the Templars dating back to 1975.
The teams’ opening-round meeting in Blanding on October 23 was their first since Manti beat the Broncos in the 2A State Championship game in overtime on November 10, 2012.
Before Friday, the Templars had won four of the last five games between the two teams, all in 2A state tournaments that encompassed 11 seasons from 2002 to 2012.
The Broncos were determined to erase that trend and prove the two teams playing each other this past Friday are entirely different creatures than the two who met eight seasons ago.
The teams looked very similar coming into the game. Both had close wins over Delta, blowouts over American Leadership, and similar losses to Grantsville and Richfield.
Both teams were in the middle of the pack in the final RPI of the season, with San Juan technically favored in eighth place and Manti ranked ninth.
The Broncos’ modus operandi has been to receive the opening kickoff when given a choice and use their opening drive to get on the scoreboard first.
They’ve executed the plan nearly to perfection all season long, and this past Friday was no exception.
They methodically drove down the field in front of a supportive home crowd, taking 4:08 to draw first blood when they converted a fourth down for a 13-yard touchdown pass from Jace Palmer to Cooper Black.
After forcing a Manti three-and-out, San Juan failed to increase their lead when they committed two penalties inside the Templar five-yard line with under four minutes to go in the quarter.
Manti finally answered to tie but not until nearly a quarter later, 3:09 into the second quarter, when sophomore running back Adam DeMille gashed the San Juan defense from 12 yards out.
San Juan put together an answering drive to retake the lead exactly four minutes later on another pass, this time a 10-yarder from Palmer to Ladd Ivins.
The Broncos set themselves up to increase their lead on the ensuing Manti possession when Palmer scooped up a Templar fumble and returned it 24 yards to the 15.
The San Juan quarterback ran the ball four straight times and finally forced the ball into the end zone from two yards out with 1:31 to go in the half.
Manti battled back to cut into the Bronco lead on an impressive 65-yard drive that took just 40 seconds and culminated with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jax Parry to Tyson Brenchley.
With just 45 seconds remaining in the half, it looked like the Broncos would take a tight 21-14 lead into the half. But with Manti set to receive the ball to start the third quarter, they were determined to regain their previous two-score lead.
The Templars inadvertently helped San Juan when they kicked the ball short, allowing the Broncos to start their final possession of the half at their own 40 with 42 seconds left.
San Juan took just two plays and 24 seconds to hit pay dirt, scoring on an impressive 43-yard pass from Palmer to Black and taking a 28-14 lead into halftime.
The late TD proved to be very important. Manti scored what would have been the tying touchdown just 1:34 into the third quarter on a 46-yard run by Tyler Taukeiaho. But the Templars’ two-point try failed, and San Juan held an eight-point lead.
The Broncos were able to punch in two scores of their own in their third frame, a 17-yard pass from Palmer to Black again, and another Palmer rushing touchdown from the one to increase their lead to 41-20 headed into the fourth quarter.
Though San Juan couldn’t muster another TD, they held Manti to just one in the final frame and took down the Templars 41-27.
The Broncos improve to 8-3 on the year and it’s their first postseason win since they beat North Summit in the first round of the 2017 2A state tournament.
As he has all season, Palmer led the team offensively against Manti. Palmer completed 15 of 24 passing attempts for 273 yards and four touchdowns.
Black and Ivins caught seven passes each – Black for 120 yards and three TDs and Ivins for 142 yards and one score.
Jensen Grover ran the ball 28 times for the Broncos for 139 yards. Palmer had 14 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns.
San Juan was excellent in the turnover battle, forcing two interceptions and one fumble while not losing the ball at all themselves. They also beat Manti in first downs 25-13.
But the Broncos were called for 107 penalty yards on 15 infractions while the Templars were only whistled for 36 yards on eight calls.
As previously mentioned, two of the penalties came at a key moment in the first quarter and prevented San Juan from increasing their score early in the game.
It’s been an area where they’ve struggled all season, and they’ll need to tighten it up as they head into a state quarterfinal matchup with the number-one team in 3A football this week.
It’s a meaningful matchup for the Broncos against Blanding native son Mike Bowring’s powerhouse Juab Wasps. The last time the two teams met was Coach Bowring’s first season in Juab after leaving behind a successful program in Monticello.
In a series that also goes back to 1975, San Juan has won seven of the ten meetings. The teams played every year from 1975 to 1982 before a 19-year haitus.
In the modern era, they have played just twice, a 29-26 San Juan win in the 2001 2A quarterfinals and a 28-7 Juab win in the 2004 2A quarterfinals.
Bronco Head Coach Barkley Christensen is excited to meet the Wasps this Friday, October 30.
He hopes his team can sneak into Nephi and surprise some folks after Juab enjoyed a bye week to open the state tournament.
Christensen knows a very deep Juab bench might give San Juan some trouble in the quarterfinals, but he said, “11 on 11 we match them pretty well.”
He said the players are excited and are buying into the team’s “trending hashtag” of “why not us?”
They’ll need to bring their best game of the season against the #1 Wasps.
Juab is 9-1 on the year with their only loss coming to the 5A Salem Hills Skyhawks back on August 28.
Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. this Friday in Nephi.
You can hear all the action live on Redrock 92.7 FM and streaming at redrock92.com.