Broncos take down two-time defending champs to win first football state title in 11 seasons


Long before the 2021 high school football season got underway, the San Juan Broncos were visualizing a 2A Utah state championship.

The morning following their 3A quarterfinal loss to Juab last November, Bronco players were in the weight room, putting in the preparatory work required to earn that state title, determined not to end 2021 with a bitter taste in their mouths.

This past Saturday, November 13 all their plans, preparation, and effort finally paid off when the Broncos took down the two-time defending champion Beaver Beavers 34-21 in the 2A Utah State Football Championship Game.

The impressive win was heartily cheered by a hefty San Juan crowd that had pretty much shut down the city of Blanding and arrived en force to Stewart Stadium at Weber State University.

With the championship, the Broncos ended an 11-year title drought, and did it against one of the most prolific football teams in state history.

It was the Beavers’ sixth championship game appearance in seven years and their state-record 24th all-time. They are winners of 13 state championships, trailing only East (17) and Skyline (14).

In the teams’ first meeting October 8, San Juan ended the Beavers’ 34-game winning streak. With their win on Saturday, the Broncos prevented Beaver from achieving their second three-peat in school history.

It’s San Juan’s first state championship since 2010, their seventh in school history, and was their 12th win in a row to close out the season.

With the win, Bronco Head Coach Barkley Christensen improved to 3-1 against Beaver Head Coach Jon Marshall.

The game went exactly as the Broncos drew it up. According to Christensen the plan was to jump on Beaver early, build a lead, and continue to attack while holding the Beavers at bay, knowing that the run-heavy Beaver offense is not designed to come from behind.

On their opening drive, San Juan marched easily down the field 70 yards in 12 plays, capping it with a 14-yard TD pass by their dynamic duo, Jace Palmer to Ladd Ivins.

Palmer was outstanding all game, utilizing his senior experience to slow time it seamed and consistently make the right reads, running when yardage was available and passing when his receivers were open.

Late in the first quarter Beaver committed the first mistake of the game when they fumbled on their own 34 yard line. Chance Hoggard recovered the loose ball for what was ultimately the only turnover of the game.

The Broncos then drove with precision to the Beaver one where Palmer extended the lead, diving into the end zone. He then completed a pass to Ivins for two points to put San Juan up 14-0.

Midway through the second quarter, the Bronco defense got a big stop with Beaver in the red zone, forcing a turnover on downs.

On the ensuing possession with San Juan facing third and long at their own 29 Palmer dropped back seven yards, found Cooper Black open in the middle of the field, and hit him with a 45-yard pass.

Black separated from four Beaver defenders and chugged the remaining 33 yards into the end zone to increase the lead to 20-0.

Following a defensive stop, the Broncos re-gained possession and that’s when they produced a little bit of a miracle.

Though they had driven to the Beaver 13, consecutive sacks dropped them all the way back to the 30 and forced a fourth and 21.

On the fourth-down play Palmer was flushed out of the pocket and had run out of options. While scrambling, he heaved the ball into the end zone against his body, just hoping for a good result.

And that’s exactly what he got. Bronco receiver Jerzy Nieves, covered by three Beaver defenders, high-pointed the ball and somehow came down with it for the fourth San Juan touchdown of the afternoon.

Officially the stat sheet reads 30-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Nieves, but that hardly does justice to the play that gave San Juan a 26-0 lead at halftime, was ultimately the game-winning touchdown, and truly set the tone for the remainder of the game.

Relative to the first half, the second half was quiet offensively for San Juan, as Beaver controlled the ball for a large chunk of the time.

The defending champs finally got on the board midway through the third quarter to pull to within 19 points, but the Broncos got their four-TD lead back when Palmer found Nieves again for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 1:23 left in the third quarter.

The Beavers scored the only touchdowns of the fourth quarter, both within the last three minutes of the game and the final score coming with just four seconds left to play.

As he has been all year, quarterback Jace Palmer was instrumental, passing for 255 yards and four touchdowns. He also led the Bronco run game with 56 yards on ten carries and the lone rushing TD.

Of course, Palmer wouldn’t have been free to perform his magic if the linemen in front of him hadn’t been winning their battles all game long – indeed all season long.

Another key to the win was the hurry-up offense San Juan began implementing in earnest against Summit Academy in the state semifinals. They stayed with it against Beaver, and it was highly effective in keeping the Beaver defense on their heels.

In keeping with his season-long habits, Ladd Ivins was a stalwart on both sides of the ball. He caught nine Palmer passes for 88 yards and one touchdown and had 14 stops on defense.

Cooper Black had 74 yards receiving on just two catches, including the 71-yard TD grab. Jerzy Nieves caught two touchdown passes for 56 yards in the win.

Though he didn’t get into the end zone in his final game as a Bronco, senior running back Jensen Grover just continued to be a steady rock for the offense, running for 47 yards on 15 carries.

And you just can’t say enough about the San Juan defense. Though the Beaver running attack finally started to make some progress in the fourth quarter, the Broncos held them to just 79 yards in the first half while they built their lead.

Magnum Nielson led San Juan with 18 tackles in the win, Tyler Bayles had 12, and Bronson Snyder and Collin Baker got 11 apiece.

The Bronco defense sacked Beaver quarterback Tyten Fails five times on the day with five different players. Snyder, Nielson, Bayles, Callen Burke, and Chance Hoggard all had one sack each, with Hoggard adding the fumble recovery.

But truly, every Bronco player stepped up to help secure the state championship they had all been dreaming of since they were very young.

“I’m so excited!” said senior offensive and defensive end Bronson Snyder in a postgame interview with Redrock Radio. “We’ve been working for 11 years…and now it’s finally here.”

Senior receiver Ladd Ivins echoed that sentiment. “We’ve been dreaming about this since we were little kids, and to finally have it is just special for the team and all the fans,” he said.

The players and coaching staff have all expressed their extreme gratitude and humility in response to the amount of support they have received from the local community.

It was evident in the stands at Weber State on Saturday, with what appeared to be a ten-to-one San Juan to Beaver fan ratio, though Beaver is over 100 miles closer to Ogden than Blanding.

The 2021 2A state football championship adds another chapter to the already ample annals of San Juan High School sports lore.

The coaches and players who all came together as a band of brothers in the gridiron trenches and the community they represented truly have something to look back on proudly for the rest of their lives.

San Juan Record

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