The Stansbury football team was at its very best in its most important game of the season Friday evening at Stallion Stadium.
The Stallions took the lead less than four minutes into their Class 4A quarterfinal playoff game against Ridgeline and never looked back, demolishing the Riverhawks 38-7 to advance to the state semifinals for the second season in a row. Stansbury (8-3) didn’t commit a turnover and limited Ridgeline (7-5) to just 217 yards of total offense in an impressive effort on both sides of the ball.
“They played really well today,” Stansbury coach Clint Christiansen said. “Our team played outstanding. I didn’t expect that, man — I didn’t expect that at all. I thought it’d be coming down to the wire, but our kids just played lights-out. They just believe right now.”
Stallions senior Conner McKay essentially put the game out of reach early in the second quarter with a 70-yard touchdown reception off a deep ball from quarterback Mitch Lindsay, giving Stansbury a 21-7 lead. It marked the third consecutive game in which Lindsay has found McKay for a touchdown of at least 70 yards.
“Before the season started, we were out every day throwing the ball,” said McKay, who has nine catches for 430 yards and five touchdowns in the past three contests — all Stansbury wins. “We started doing that an hour before practice … and that’s when we started to put it together.”
The Stansbury offense got off to a blazing start, as Tavita Gagnier ripped off a 35-yard run on the first play of the game to spark a nine-play, 85-yard drive. Silas Young came up with a pair of big third-down conversions before capping the drive with a 17-yard scoring run to put the Stallions up 7-0.
After the Stallions’ defense forced the Riverhawks to go three-and-out on their first possession, Stansbury needed just two plays to double its lead after getting the ball back at midfield. On second-and-6, Gagnier carried the ball around the left side and found nothing but green grass in front of him, racing down the sideline for a 46-yard touchdown with 5:32 left in the opening quarter.
Ridgeline responded with a 10-play, 57-yard drive, capped by Hayden Williams’ 1-yard TD run to cut the lead in half with 43 seconds left in the first quarter, only to have Stansbury strike again less than two minutes later. It appeared the Riverhawks might dodge a bullet after a long run by Gagnier was scuttled by a holding penalty on the final play of the first quarter, but Lindsay and McKay connected for the first of two times on the evening to restore Stansbury’s 14-point lead.
“They have to spend so much energy to stop us from running the ball, and they start to lose focus on who’s going to be where,” Christiansen said. “It only takes one little mishap and we get a guy open, and Mitch has just been playing unbelievable. He’s been playing great football down the stretch.”
Ridgeline had a chance to close the gap just before halftime, driving the ball to the Stallions’ 21-yard line. Stansbury’s secondary kept the Riverhawks out of the end zone, with Kooper Roundy knocking away a first-down pass and Gagnier making touchdown-saving plays on third and fourth downs.
The Stallions’ defense also stiffened on Ridgeline’s first possession of the second half after the Riverhawks drove the ball into Stansbury territory. Stansbury forced an incomplete pass on third-and-5 from its 33-yard line, and after a Ridgeline penalty, Stansbury’s Jet Richins forced Riverhawks quarterback Brady Stuart to run out of bounds on fourth down to give the Stallions the ball back.
Stansbury chewed up nearly five minutes of game time with its ensuing drive, getting crucial yardage on a pass from Lindsay to McKay as well as a 12-yard run by Gagnier on third-and-6 from the Ridgeline 19. The drive ultimately stalled at the Riverhawks’ 6-yard line, setting up Jay Mackay’s 21-yard field goal.
The final dagger to Ridgeline’s hopes came when Alix Taukeiaho strip-sacked Stuart on the final play of the third quarter. Dallon Brooks recovered the fumble, giving the Stallions the ball on the Ridgeline 25-yard line, and Young ran it in from a yard out seven plays later for an insurmountable 31-7 advantage.
McKay added a couple exclamation marks, intercepting a pass from Ridgeline backup quarterback Breck Jackson later in the fourth quarter. Three plays later, Lindsay found McKay for a 48-yard touchdown reception.
“We knew they were good, but seeing that our offense was moving the ball how we did, we just knew that we were clicking quick,” McKay said. “The holes were there. They had spots in their defense that we attacked.”
McKay finished with three catches for 141 yards, while Lindsay was 4-for-9 for 155 yards through the air. Gagnier rushed for 117 yards on just six carries and Young had 106 yards on 19 attempts as Stansbury racked up 443 yards of total offense.
Meanwhile, the Stallions’ defense had four sacks — one each from Taukeiaho, Richins, Kyle McKenna and Cole Veach — and limited the Riverhawks to 84 yards on 29 rushing attempts. Taukeiaho also had a team-high 12 tackles.
The victory moves Stansbury into Thursday’s state semifinal game against Region 12 runner-up Mountain Crest, which edged Region 9 champion Dixie 18-17 on a last-second field goal. The Mustangs defeated the Stallions 52-19 on Sept. 8 in Hyrum as the Stallions stumbled to a 1-3 start against a difficult pre-region schedule. However, Stansbury comes into Thursday’s game riding a seven-game winning streak.
“It feels great,” McKay said. “We’ve put in so much work and we’re glad to be able to be back, but we’re not just going to show up. We’re going to keep going. We’re not done.”