South Summit football takes state once again
The South Summit High School football team beat Grand County High School 50-25 on Saturday, earning the title of back-to-back Class 2A state champions.
It’s the fourth time in six years that the team has gone 11-1, and its fourth time winning the state title over that time.
But head coach Mike Grajek said this season didn’t predictable.
“I think every season brings something different, because every team as a different personality and different makeup,” he said.
This season also started differently.
It wasn’t unusual that the Wildcats stormed San Juan in the opening game, 56-13, then earned a tough 20-14 win over Class 3A semifinalist Morgan.
But their third game of the season was a loss to 4A Park City, which hadn’t happened in the five previous years the teams had faced each other.
The Wildcats had the goal of following in last season’s footsteps and going undefeated, winning their region and taking state, but the Miners put a dent in that dream with a 27-13 victory.
“After the Park City game we had to change to have a goal to be 11-1,” Grajek said.
But the team also walked away from the game with a valuable insight.
“We throw it a lot, so we ended up going five wide,” Grajek said. “Keeping a running back in the backfield isn’t really helping us with our pass protection, and getting one of our guys out of the box and having them worry about it is to our advantage. That was one of the things that was exposed during the Park City game.”
Changing to a more pass-focused offense helped the Wildcats earn a position as one of the most effective passing teams in the state. South Summit senior quarterback Kael Atkinson earned 349 passing yards per game over nine games. After the loss to Park City, South Summit defeated perennial state Class 2A contender Beaver 27-13, then rolled every other team they played for the remainder of the regular season. Their biggest blowouts included a 62-7 win over Gunnison Valley and a 50-0 win over winless cross-county rival North Summit – the final game before playoffs.
On Oct. 26, the Wildcats defeated the Enterprise Wolves 35-19 in Kamas in the first round, then defeated the Millard Eagles 35-10 on Nov. 2 at Timpview High School, leaving just Grand County standing between the Wildcats and another title.
Grajek said his team prepared for the game by anticipating an aggressive defense from their Moab opponents.
“Millard caused a couple fits for us in the semis because they just brought pressure from all different directions, and we expected that from Grand, and sure enough, they did,” he said. “But we worked on it all week, and the kids handled it great. It was just a matter of getting sunk in and seeing what they were giving us.”
Grand County scored first when senior wide receiver Stacy Randall caught a pass from junior quarterback Bryant Troutt for a 51-yard touchdown play with 4:46 left in the first quarter.
Two minutes later, Atkinson found senior wide receiver Jared Dansie cutting across the middle of the field for a 22-yard touchdown.
On the kickoff, the ball slipped through the hands of a Red Devils receiver and fell out of bounds on their one-yard line. The South Summit defense kept Grand County bottled up, and forced a fumble on the six-yard line.
South Summit recovered the ball, and two plays later, Atkinson dove into the Grand County end zone. A two-point conversion brought the Wildcats to a 16-7 lead.
The Red Devils’ next possession was an eight-minute grind upfield, culminating in a three-yard touchdown run by Troutt with 4:12 left in the half. After a failed two-point conversion, Grand County had narrowed South Summit’s lead to 16-13.
By then, the Wildcats had figured out Grand County’s defense.
“The bottom kind of fell out on them,” Grajek said of Grand County. “We ended up scoring 22 points in the last four minutes of the second quarter.”
Atkinson kicked off the scoring bonanza with a 57-yard touchdown run down the sideline with 3:34 left in the period.
Then Dansie scored two touchdowns for South Summit, both from Atkinson passes, with a 22-yard and a 28-yard catch. Dansie picked up two additional points for the team in a conversion play. Senior Hagen Miles picked up another two point conversion after Dansie’s latter touchdown.
The Wildcats entered halftime leading 38-13, and the Red Devils from red rock country never recovered.
Dansie scored his last points of the game with 6:50 left in the third quarter through a massive 65-yard catch and run from Atkinson. Then senior defensive back Landon Nuneviller picked a 78-yard interception for a touchdown – the Wildcats’ last score of the game.
At the final whistle, South Summit won 50-25. They came back to Kamas afterward, where they were greeted by the community, which had turned out along Main Street, honking car horns and waving to the players as they passed. At the high school, the seniors each said a few words about their season.
Eighteen members of the roster were seniors, and all of them are starters.
Grajek said there are a handful of players who could be in the running for the Class 2A MVP award this season, which Atkinson brought home in 2017..
“We have a team full of MVP’s, it’s just a matter of who gets the votes,” he said.
And even though the team’s seniors had been there before, this season was theirs.
“It’s nice that forever they will all say ‘Yeah, I was a starter on a state championship team,’” Grajek said.
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