Broncos take down Beaver again for second straight 2A Utah State football championship
by Rhett Sifford
Three months ago, before the 2022 Utah high school football season began, the annual Deseret News coaches’ poll predicted Beaver to finish first in the state in 2A and San Juan to finish second.
Most thought the Broncos’ loss of 20 seniors from their 2021 state championship team was too much to overcome and they would not be able to secure back-to-back titles.
On Friday, November 11 the 2022 San Juan Broncos proved that wrong with a convincing 41-21 victory over Beaver at Utah Tech University in St. George.
The Broncos led from start to finish in what was a rematch of last year’s title game. They made a habit of that this season, trailing for just 18:26 of playing time all year long.
In the championship game they exploded for four touchdowns and a 27-0 lead in the first quarter. Beaver actually received the opening kick and began at midfield after a nice return, but they fumbled on their very first play.
San Juan made them pay when Parker Snyder opened the scoring with a two-yard touchdown run just 2:51 into the game.
The Broncos forced a punt on the Beavers’ next possession, then put together a four-play, 39-yard scoring drive, culminating with an eight-yard TD run by Zack Conway.
The teams traded punts before the Bronco defense again forced a fumble, this time on the Beaver 34. On second and one Snyder found Collin Baker wide open over the middle for a beautiful 25-yard touchdown pass.
The San Juan defense again stood strong on the Beavers’ next possession, denying a fourth-down conversion try to take the ball back once again at the Beaver 34.
The Bronco offense built another convincing drive, scoring on five plays when Snyder ran his second touchdown of the afternoon in from the two.
With 30 seconds left in the first quarter it looked like San Juan was going to run away with it. But the Beavers came alive in the second quarter and started to compete.
While holding San Juan off the board the Beavers put together their first scoring drive of the game midway through the quarter. They first blocked a Snyder punt attempt, setting themselves up with short field at the San Juan 27.
They drove to the one yard line and junior running back Tate Gale punched the ball into the end zone. Just two minutes later Beaver defender Gage Raddon intercepted a Parker Snyder pass at midfield.
The Beavers took six plays to drive the ball to the San Juan 17 where quarterback Tyten Fails found Gale open for a touchdown pass.
Suddenly the premature Bronco party was sidelined and the 2A state championship game was indeed a game again. The Beavers continued to keep San Juan off the board and the teams went into the half with the Broncos up 27-14.
Championship teams always thrive in challenging circumstances. After an amazing start in the title game, San Juan had been brought back down to earth in the second quarter, and halftime was a gut check for the team.
Head Coach Barkley Christensen said later that he didn’t have to say much to the players and they responded in the third quarter like they knew they had to. “I think they just realized it was slipping away from us a little bit and we’ve responded all year when things have gotten tough,” he explained.
The Broncos did respond in the third, despite the fact that they faced a stiff challenge from Beaver. The teams battled and kept each other off the board until San Juan finally orchestrated a nice scoring drive late in the quarter.
Starting at the Beaver 47 Parker Snyder took over for San Juan. He got two solid runs to set the tone, then flung the ball to Collin Baker in the flat for a couple nice gains to put the Broncos in scoring position.
On third down from the Beaver four Snyder faked a handoff to Trace Bennett, and Conway was wide open on the right side.
He caught the pass and tucked the ball inside the pylon for San Juan’s first touchdown since the first quarter, increasing their lead to 35-14 after a two-point conversion.
The Bronco defense continued to do their job, keeping Beaver off the scoreboard through the start of the fourth quarter.
They got the key stop they needed 1:21 into the fourth when Zack Conway beat two blocks to get to Fails and register a sack, thwarting a fourth down try in San Juan territory.
From that point the San Juan offense kept the ball on the ground to keep the clock running and deftly marched the ball down the field. Snyder’s 38-yard run set the Broncos up at the Beaver 12 where they used another seven plays and three minutes to find pay dirt.
Snyder dialed his own number again to run it in from the one for his third rushing touchdown of the day. The PAT failed and the Broncos’ lead was a sizable 41-14 with just under eight minutes to play.
The Beaver offense is not geared for a quick comeback, so although they got a nice drive on their final possession of the game, they also used a lot of clock.
With 4:32 left in the game the Beavers scored the final touchdown of the day when Tate Gale ran the ball in from the two to make the score 41-21.
The Broncos got one first down and that was enough to run out the remainder of the time. Then the team poured onto the field to celebrate their second straight 2A Utah State football championship.
It was a very convincing win, capping a very convincing season. For a team that was expected to experience a lull after loosing so much experience from the previous year, they established themselves as the team to beat very early on.
Parker Snyder was finally named 2A quarterback of the year after being in the shadows of other favored quarterbacks for most of the season. Those who watched him all year knew the junior deserved that honor.
For the second time in school history San Juan completed an undefeated, untied, 13-0 season. It is the team’s eighth state title and it came with their 25th win in a row. That’s the longest active streak in the state and it ranks tenth in state history.
It’s the second time the Broncos have won back-to-back football state championships, with the first coming in 2009-10. Both of those pairs of titles are also part of a crazy 16-year pattern that will continue in 2A Utah football by virtue of the Broncos’ win this past Friday.
State titles in the 2A classification have been won in pairs dating all the way back to North Summit’s back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008.
San Juan, Manti, South Summit, Beaver, South Summit, Beaver, and now San Juan have all followed suit with their own back-to-back titles in that time.
None of them have been able to pull off a three-peat. San Juan of course hopes to do that next season, and they’ll have a good shot to do it, returning Snyder, Conway, and pretty much half of their 2022 starters.
Following the win Snyder said, “I’m just trying to take it all in because stuff like this doesn’t happen every day. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of a program that allows us to do this two years in a row.”
Snyder was responsible for five of San Juan’s touchdowns in the state championship game. He ran for three himself and threw for two. Amazingly he was the game’s leading rusher with 145 yards on 22 carries, largely in the second half.
Collin Baker was his favorite receiver and he caught six passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. Anthony Done caught two passes for 43 yards. And Zack Conway had four catches for 25 yards and a TD.
Conway finished a stellar season in the running game with 21 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown. Following the state championship win Conway said, “We lost a lot of seniors but we knew deep down that our junior class is unstoppable. It starts in the weight room.”
He is the epitome of putting in the hard work that nobody sees until game night on the field. And that’s the attitude of the entire Bronco team. Many players after the game were already saying, “See you Monday morning at 6:30.”
Immediately after winning their second straight state title, the team was ready to go right back to work in the weight room to begin preparing for next season.
Enough can’t be said about the San Juan defense in the title game. They were exceptionally well prepared for Beaver and held a highly-touted and powerful running offense that averaged 242 yards per game to a minuscule 41 yards.
Sophomore Jake Ivins led the team in tackles with 14 in the win, Jerzy Nieves had 13, Collin Baker got 11, and Trace Bennet made ten stops on the afternoon.
The Broncos forced two huge turnovers in the first quarter and Baker recovered both fumbles. Taylor Black and Zack Conway both sacked Beaver quarterback Tyten Fails and Conway’s was one of the nails in the coffin in the fourth quarter.
On the field after the game, winning back-to-back state championships hadn’t yet sunk in for San Juan Head Coach Barkley Christensen, who is now 51-19 at the helm.
He said, “It means a whole lot. These guys have worked way too hard and…we have tough kids in Blanding. I could be anywhere else doing the same thing and it might not work. It’s all about the kids and the blue collar mentality they’re raised with.”
He said when the Broncos were up by four touchdowns early in the game they started coasting a little, thinking they were going to walk away with it. “So we challenged them [at halftime],” he said. “This is it. Some of you have two quarters left for the rest of your life. Man, did they answer the call.”
They did. All season long. San Juan ended the year with the second-highest scoring offense in the entire state with 603 points, an average of 46.4 per game. They had the third-stingiest defense among 2A teams, allowing just 17.5 point per game.
Parker Snyder replaced Jace Palmer more than capably, a feat many thought would be impossible for the junior. He passed for an astounding 46 touchdowns, just outside the top ten in state history.
He threw for a state-high 3,721 yards. That’s 14th in the nation as of November 16. He was also the Broncos’ second-leading rusher with 819 yards on 112 carries and 11 touchdowns.
Zack Conway was the offensive workhorse, the train. He carried the ball 189 times for 1,607 yards and 20 touchdowns. He caught 30 passes for 583 yards and an additional seven touchdowns. He also played full-time defense for the Broncos, contributing heavily on both sides of the ball.
The leading receiver in 2022 was one of the team’s few seniors, Garrett Young. He caught 60 passes from Snyder for 882 yards and nine touchdowns.
Fellow senior Jerzy Nieves had 55 catches for 826 yards and 13 touchdowns. Junior Anthony Done had an outstanding season with 47 receptions, 776 yards, and seven TDs.
It’s very evident what the Broncos missed in senior Collin Baker while he was injured for more than half the season. But he returned to play in six games, and in that time caught 26 passes for 440 yards and eight touchdowns to round out the top five among receivers.
Defensively, Trace Bennett was far and away the team’s leading tackler. He made 127 stops on opponent ballcarriers, an average of 9.8 per game.
Jake Ivins was next in line with 79, Jerzy Nieves had 63, Garrett Young got 54, and Brad Duke and Hudson Whatcott were tied with 53 apiece.
Zack Conway led the team with eight sacks on the year. Brigham Nielson, Justice Black, Callen Burke, and Brad Duke all had two apiece.
Jerzy Nieves led San Juan with five interceptions on the year. Garrett Young had four. Parker Snyder and Brigham Nielson both had three each. Nielson led with three fumble recoveries. Collin Baker had two.
And we can’t go without mentioning Shawn Black and Will Hoopes. Black was a stalwart all year in the extra point department, scoring on 51 of his 69 attempts for 74 percent.
Hoopes was steady in his quiet role as place kicker, averaging 50 yards per kickoff. Both players are graduating at the end of this school year.
It was another season that will forever be etched in the minds of Bronco players, coaches, family, and fans. Back-to-back championships is no small feat. And next year looks even more promising.
Can San Juan break the pattern and be the first team ever to three-peat in the modern 2A classification? Mark your calendars for mid August when the 2023 high school football season kicks off.