Monticello battles tough but falls to Gunnison 26-22 in inaugural 8-player championship
by David Boyle
The Monticello Buckaroo football team wrapped up the inaugural Utah 8-player season playing for a state title against Gunnison Valley High School in Cedar City at Southern Utah University on November 12.
Monticello battled back from an early 19-0 deficit to take a lead in the fourth quarter but the Bulldogs got the last score and the first Utah 8-player championship, winning the game 26-22.
Gunnison Valley played a mixed schedule of 11 and 8-player games. With just seven teams committing to 8-player football Gunnison was added to the tournament to fill out the bracket and give the entire 8-player league an opportunity to play in a postseason tournament.
Despite being a 2A school, Monticello coaches were quick to express gratitude for Gunnison Valley’s participation in the 8-player tournament.
For the Buckaroos it was their first appearance in a state football title game since 2004 when they won the 1A championship. Monticello finished this season with a record of 8-4.
The Buckaroos started the title game by kicking to the Bulldogs who took their first possession from the 42 yard line. On first down Gunnison fumbled the ball and Monticello recovered, but officials ruled the fumble was caused by the ground. Video replay shows a missed turnover on the opening play of the game.
Gunnison recovered from there, moving the football 58 yards in nine plays on their opening drive. They capped it with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Tyson Tucker to Bryson Sorenson. An extra point kick gave Gunnison a 7-0 lead with seven and a half minutes to go in the first quarter.
Monticello’s first offensive possession was pretty quiet, resulting in a three-and-out for the Buckaroos and a punt.
Gunnison began their second possession at the 43 yard line. On the first play Gunnison’s running back Tyrek Hopkins took a direct snap and ran down into the red zone at the 14 yard line.
Monticello’s defense stiffened up from there, holding the Bulldogs to four yards on two plays on the ground and two incomplete passes. That gave the ball back to Monticello on a turnover on downs.
Monticello’s second offensive possession started at the ten yard line. The Bucks picked up one first down on some running plays and a Gunnison penalty gave them another at the 41 yard line.
A high snap on first down saw quarterback JD McDonald corral the ball at the 16 yard line with an intentional grounding call giving Monticello a long way to first-down yardage. Following two incomplete passes the Bucks were forced to punt again.
Gunnison’s third possession started at the Monticello 38 yard line. The Bulldogs took just three plays to score with Pearson Judy scoring on an 18 yard run. An unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt made the score 13-0 at the end of one quarter.
Monticello’s next possession started at the 31 yard line. Monticello picked up three first downs before the drive stalled in the red zone with Monticello failing to convert on a fourth-down and 12 at the 19 yard line.
Gunnison’s offense picked up big yardage on their first play to midfield but Monticello held the Bulldogs when Javlin Robison forced a fumble in the backfield on third down. Gunnison recovered but was forced to punt, giving Monticello another possession at the 13 yard line.
The Monticello offense ran three plays before punting to Gunnison and the Bulldogs took over with a short-field at the 31 yard line.
Hopkins ran for 20 yards on one play and 11 on another into the end zone to give Gunnison a 19-0 lead with six minutes to go in the first half. Monticello stopped the Bulldogs on their two-point conversion attempt.
Facing a three-touchdown deficit the Monticello offense started their drive at the 29 yard line. The Bucks put together an 11-play drive, picking up three first downs and scoring their first points of the game.
McDonald threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Easton Young to get on the board, then McDonald passed to Robison for two points. The Bucks were back within two scores at 19-8 with three minutes to go in the half. The Bulldogs offense then ran the clock out to end the first half.
In the second half Monticello started with the ball at the 41 yard line on a good return from Young.
The Buckaroo offense again went on a sustained drive, going 59 yards on 13 plays and picking up four first downs. The Buckaroos capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run by Robert Morrison. The point-after kick was no good but MHS was back to within a TD with the score 19-14.
Gunnison’s first possession of the second half started at their own 38. After giving up 217 yards in the first half Monticello’s defense stiffened up in the third quarter.
On their first offensive series the Bulldogs big runner Hopkins was held to a two-yard gain on a tackle by Robison. On second down Robison and Zac Thayn combined for a backfield tackle for loss.
On third and ten Mason Atwood hit the quarterback who spun away and then tripped to force the Bulldogs to punt after going backwards nine yards.
Monticello’s second possession began with five minutes to go in the third quarter at the 27 yard line. Monticello picked up two first downs before failing to convert on fourth down and gave the Bulldogs the ball at their own 40 yard line.
Gunnison picked up a first down in two plays. Facing first and ten at the 50-yard line Mason Atwood got into the backfield to hold Gunnison to a loss of one yard.
On second down Gunnison threw an incomplete pass before picking up six yards on a quarterback run with Thayn making the tackle.
The Bulldogs’ fourth down attempt was blown up by Donovan Atwood who got into the backfield to hold Gunnison to a loss. The score remained 19-14 favoring Gunnison to start the fourth quarter.
From there Monticello’s offense got to work at the 47 yard line. They moved the ball mostly on the ground, picking up four first downs on 12 plays.
The drive was capped by a one-yard quarterback sneak into the end zone by McDonald, giving Monticello their first lead of the game with 8:01 to play.
The Bucks again employed the swing-gate formation on the extra point attempt. Young took the snap and passed the ball to Landon Ewart who caught it, giving Monticello a 22-19 lead.
Gunnison had a good kickoff return giving the Bulldogs possession at midfield. On their first play of the series the Bulldogs ran a trick play with the running back throwing back to the quarterback Tucker who found an open Brogan Christensen for a 50-yard touchdown. The Bulldogs successful kick gave them a 26-22 lead.
With less than eight minutes to go in the game Monticello took over at their own 39 yard line. The Buckaroos picked up a first down on a McDonald scramble and a late hit gave them a first down at the Gunnison 33. On second and ten the Bulldogs poked the ball out of Robison’s hands for the only turnover of the game.
Gunnison took over at their own 26 with six minutes to play and they retained possession for the remainder of the game, picking up three first downs and running out the clock to secure the win.
The game finished with Monticello picking up 319 yards of offense. The Buckaroos had 124 yards through the air with McDonald completing 11 of 25 attempts and one touchdown.
Young led the receiving corps catching six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. Ewart caught four passes for 32 yards and Robison had one catch for 16 yards.
The Monticello running game was also led by McDonald who had 84 yards rushing and one touchdown. Morrison had 47 yards and one touchdown as well.
Robison gained 37 yards on the ground while Thomas Fullmer had 14 yards rushing and Young added 13. Young also had 71 kick return yards in the game.
The Buckaroo defense gave up 324 offensive yards, 257 on the ground and 67 through the air. The Bulldogs won the turnover margin, gathering the only fumble lost in the game.
Monticello finished the season with a record of 8-4 and will say goodbye to an impactful senior class. Senior linemen Nic Lundell, Tug Davis, and Donovan Atwood all provided great blocks in the Buckaroo state title bid. Each of the senior linemen also had big tackles for loss at key points in the state semifinal and state title games.
Monticello will also say goodbye to the senior leadership of Javlin Robison who led the defense at the linebacker position and paced the offensive run department.
Senior receivers Easton Young and Landon Ewart stretched the field for Monticello. The duo’s quickness and speed gave defenses fits all season. The two also shut down opponents’ passing games and came up to make tackles on the defensive side of the ball.
Young also led the nation in punt return yards for the first half of the season.
Monticello will compete in the 8-player division again next year, with many starters and key contributors returning with deep playoff experience following a successful first year of the division for the Buckaroos.
A special thanks goes to coaches, parents, and sponsors of broadcasts for a successful season.