The Grantsville football team has long felt like an afterthought in Tooele County, often overshadowed by its bigger neighbors at Stansbury and Tooele.
On Friday night, the Cowboys showed they’re not content to play the little brother role anymore.
Grantsville’s rushing game outgained Tooele’s running attack 268 yards to 5, and the Class 3A Cowboys outscored the Class 4A Buffaloes 21-8 after halftime en route to a 28-21 win over their county rivals at Cowboy Stadium.
“It feels really amazing, showing that we can hang with them,” Grantsville senior Isaac Riding said. “It feels good to beat them and show everybody that we’re Grantsville. That was one thing coming in — let them know that we’re Grantsville and we’re out here.”
Grantsville (4-0), off to its best start since winning its first five games of the 2013 season, found itself behind 13-7 at halftime thanks to the big-play heroics of Tooele’s Nukuluve Helu and Austin Meoño. But the Cowboys began to take control of the contest with a seven-play, 84-yard touchdown drive on their first possession of the second half that put them in front 14-13, and they never trailed again.
“They just wanted to prove that they are one of the big boys around here and they should have some respect,” Grantsville coach Kody Byrd said. “I think they came out and played like it.
Grantsville junior Parker Thomas had six carries for 52 yards on that half-opening drive, including a 31-yard run and a 5-yard TD run. The biggest play came on third-and-6 from the Tooele 37-yard line, when quarterback Jackson Sandberg found Taylor Wood for a 32-yard gain to keep the drive alive. It was a particularly big play for Sandberg, who had a rough second quarter in which he went 3-for-10 with two interceptions.
“We knew Jackson could do it all along,” Byrd said of Sandberg, who finished 7-for-18 for 97 yards. “He’s a competitor — he always is. I’ve told him numerous times that I love watching him perform on the football field, on the basketball court, on the baseball field — I love coming and watching him compete. I knew he was going to step up and I never had any doubt on that.”
Things got worse for Tooele (1-3) immediately after that when Grantsville recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Cowboys the ball back on the Buffs’ 48-yard line. Again, Thomas led the way, carrying the ball five times for 48 yards with his 11-yard run extending the lead to 21-13 with 3:59 left in the third quarter.
“There’s definitely a little more juice — a little more adrenaline (against a rival),” said Thomas, who finished with 236 yards on 29 carries to give him 910 yards for the season through four games.
Grantsville then put the game away early in the fourth quarter with a 10-play, 56-yard drive. The Cowboys’ running attack got them down to the Buffs’ 5-yard line, where it briefly appeared the drive had stalled as Tooele kept Thomas out of the end zone on first and second downs and Sandberg’s pass to Chace Gipson was off-target on third down. But Sandberg hit Parker Bird in the end zone on fourth down to give the Cowboys an all-important insurance touchdown with 8:59 left in the contest.
Tooele tried to mount a comeback, led by junior quarterback Kulani Iongi along with Meoño and Helu. However, Iongi couldn’t escape the pressure of Grantsville’s relentless pass rush, which led to him being sacked nine times during the game. Riding finished with three sacks, while Gauge Pyne and Colten Gill each had two and Ammon Bartley and Drake Hall had one each.
“Fly around like a bunch of crazy dogs and hit people — that’s basically what goes through our minds,” Riding said.
The Buffaloes got a 6-yard touchdown run from Jordan Leakehe, followed by a two-point conversion by Iongi with 58 seconds left to pull within seven points, but were unable to recover the onside kick and Grantsville ran out the clock.
Tooele opened the game with a 10-play, 74-yard drive that included a 45-yard pass from Iongi to Helu on third-and-13 and an 18-yard run by Helu on second-and-17. Helu capped the drive with a 2-yard scoring run.
Thomas had a 42-yard run on third-and-11 on Grantsville’s first drive of the game, and tied the game with a 2-yard TD run with 3:03 left in the first quarter. His three-touchdown performance gives him 12 TDs so far this season.
“It was something special,” Thomas said. “There was a crowd here tonight, so I gotta perform. Much love to my O-line once again — they’re the ones that took it to them tonight.”
Tooele took the lead back with 1:53 left in the first quarter on a 52-yard pass from Iongi to Meoño. Iongi was 14-for-21 for 212 yards through the air, while Meoño caught seven passes for 103 yards and Helu had two receptions for 60 yards.
Tooele coach Jeff Lewis credited Grantsville as a good team that played well on Friday night as he left the field following the game. The Buffs are preparing for this Friday’s Region 11 opener against county rival Stansbury.
Grantsville will open Class 3A North play Friday at Morgan.
“We’re going to go up there and show them who we are, just like we did to Tooele,” Riding said. “That’s our goal. We just want to go out and take care of business.”