South Summit falls to Beaver in 2A championship |

South Summit falls to Beaver in 2A championship

South Summit's Keegan Stracher 10 is tackled near the 50-yard line by an American Leadership Academy defensive player during the first quarter of a game earlier this season.

Throughout the entirety of the 2016 season, the South Summit High School football team felt a little bit like an underdog.

With just two starters returning that saw meaningful minutes from last year's state runner-up squad, another shot at the UHSAA 2A state championship game seemed improbable at the season's start, if not impossible with some of the strong teams returning.

Game by game, though, South Summit proved its doubters wrong by beating 2A opponents in most of its contests, compiling an 8-1 record heading into this year's playoffs. By this point, the team had proved its worth with multiple blowout victories and was considered one of the favorites heading into the playoffs.

The Wildcats continued to block out the naysayers by first winning in the quarterfinals, followed by a semifinal victory over a tough San Juan team, which pit them against defending state champion Beaver — the same team that stopped South Summit's undefeated run last season — in the championship game.

"Nobody expected us to be there," South Summit Head Coach Mike Grajek said of being back in the championship.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they were unable to silence the critics for a final time in the 2A title game at Southern Utah University on Saturday, falling to the Beavers for the second year in a row, 55-35. South Summit finishes its season at 10-2.

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"The kids wanted to win it," Grajek said. "They wanted to carry on tradition that has been here and win a state championship. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They fought right until the end."

The Beavers stuck to what they know by rushing for 534 yards, including a 320-yard, two-touchdown performance from quarterback Jordan Hardy. Dillon Smith did most of the scoring for Beaver, finding the end zone on five separate occasions while rushing for 174 yards of his own.

Between the two of them, Hardy and Smith ran for 494 yards and seven touchdowns, typically more than most entire teams put together in a single contest, let alone the state final.

"We just ran into a really good team," Grajek said. "You've got to give Beaver some credit. They prepare really well for us."

Like much of the season, Nick Beasley led the way for the Wildcats, but not just in the box score. The senior quarterback is widely-regarded as one of the best dual-threat options in the state, evident by the numbers he has posted in his final season under center for South Summit. He had three touchdowns in Saturday's game, but it was his leadership that allowed his team to stay in it.

According to his coach, Beasley was dealing with a number of injuries against Beaver; a dislocated tailbone, as well as having stitches put into his forearm while his other forearm was super-glued shut to close a laceration after being pushed into a bench on the sideline.

It didn't take long for this teammates to get behind him to try and complete a comeback. After falling behind by three scores early in the first quarter, the Wildcats tied things up in the final two minutes of the first half at 28-28, giving South Summit life heading into the locker rooms.

"He just played like a warrior," Grajek said of Beasley. "He's the one that got us there. … I think he did a great job and Beaver just took away some things that we've been doing during the game and what we've been doing all year. You have to give credit to their preparation."

While preparation had to do with it, so did mid-game adjustments for Beaver. Despite being shell-shocked at the end of the first half, the Beavers outscored the Wildcats 27-7 in the second, putting the final nail in the coffin when Hardy ran 96 yards with just about two minutes remaining in the game to go up 55-35.

Players for South Summit were understandably upset with the loss, said Grajek, but at the same time, the head coach couldn't be more proud. Moving forward, he wants his team to remember the process of getting to the championship rather than the game itself.

"You have nothing to be ashamed of," Grajek said he told his team after the loss. "Be proud of what got you here, the hard work and the camaraderie that you guys built together. You guys will never forget the 2016 Wildcats. You will always remember this time."