It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
The Grantsville football team has taken that to heart this season, with strong second-half performances leading to big wins for the Cowboys. Friday night was the latest example, as Grantsville scored 20 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 27-17 win over Summit Academy in a Region 13 game in Bluffdale. The Cowboys (6-2, 3-0 Region 13) overcame four turnovers, thanks mainly to a stout defense that limited Summit Academy (3-5, 0-3) to just 194 yards of total offense.
“We just came out and played our brand of football and pulled it out,” Grantsville coach Kody Byrd said. “It’s always big when you can come in and beat the reigning state champs on the road. It’s huge.”
The Cowboys made life miserable for Bears quarterback Joe Garlick, sacking him seven times and coming up with three interceptions. Grantsville’s first interception came on Summit Academy’s second offensive play of the game, as Garlick’s throw over the middle was snagged by linebacker Hunter Johnson. The subsequent return gave the Cowboys the ball on the Bears’ 14-yard line, and Blake Thomas ran it in on the very next play to put Grantsville in front 7-0 with 9:54 left in the first quarter.
The Cowboys had problems of their own when it came to protecting the ball in the first half, but their defense kept the Bears at bay. After Summit Academy cut the lead to 7-3 on a 40-yard field goal by Kyson Andolsek with 4:15 left in the first quarter, Grantsville embarked on a 10-play, 55-yard drive that got the Cowboys deep in the red zone. On second-and-4 from the Summit Academy 10-yard line, Grantsville quarterback Jackson Sandberg fired a pass to the end zone that was intercepted by the Bears’ Preston Maxfield. Later in the second quarter, the Cowboys’ Chace Gipson muffed a punt on his own 29-yard line, but Grantsville’s defense stepped up and forced a turnover on downs.
However, there was nothing the Cowboys’ defense could do to prevent the Bears from taking the lead just before halftime. On a second-and-3 play from the Grantsville 44, Sandberg again looked for an open receiver over the middle and was picked off by the Bears’ Gage Sessions. Sessions weaved his way through traffic and returned the ball 56 yards for a touchdown, putting Summit Academy up 10-7. It was almost 13-7 after James Fuluvaka fumbled the ball on the Cowboys’ 17-yard line, but Andolsek missed a 34-yard field goal attempt wide left with two seconds left in the opening half.
Despite the rough start, Byrd was confident that Sandberg and the rest of the Cowboys would get things turned around after halftime.
“We might have played the worst half that we have (all season), but we were only down by three points,” Byrd said. “They had confidence, and they needed to know that I have confidence in them.”
Summit Academy extended its lead to 17-7 with a nine-play, 70-yard drive to open the second half, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Garlick to JT Kupiec. But the Cowboys’ offense responded with a masterful 12-play, 67-yard drive that took 7:36 off the game clock. Grantsville converted on a fourth-and-5 from the Bears’ 37 on a pass from Sandberg to Thomas, with Thomas fumbling and Ammon Bartley recovering the loose ball and gaining an additional seven yards. The Bears gave the Cowboys a first down by jumping offside on third-and-3 later in the drive, and Sandberg hit Gipson for an 8-yard touchdown on third-and-4 to pull GHS within three points.
That drive was all Grantsville needed to seize the momentum. The Bears committed two false-start penalties on their ensuing drive, and Kayden Bohman sacked Garlick for a 7-yard loss on third-and-9 to force a punt. The Cowboys took over near midfield with 11:42 left in the game, and on fourth-and-2 from the Bears’ 36, Sandberg hit Taylor Wood in stride down the right sideline for his second touchdown pass of the evening to put Grantsville up 20-17.
“He’s big-time,” Byrd said of Sandberg. “He came back, showed leadership, showed his growth and maturity and didn’t let that bad first half hurt him or rattle him. He’s definitely one of our strongest, most mentally tough kids. He’s got it upstairs.”
Perhaps motivated by their offensive success, the Cowboys’ defense stepped up its game even further. Gauge Pyne stuffed Bears running back Masen Chinn for a 2-yard loss on second-and-4, and Kaden Kelley came up with a big interception on a ball that was deflected by Bartley to set up the Cowboys on the Summit Academy 33 with 7:58 left.
A 10-yard pass from Sandberg to Bartley, along with completions of 10 and 11 yards to Wood, quickly moved the Cowboys down to the Bears’ 2-yard line. Fuluvaka scored from there to put Grantsville up 27-17 with 6:16 to go.
The defense brought it home from there. Kelley forced a fumble that Bartley recovered on the Bears’ next drive, and Gipson made a leaping interception with 29 seconds left to seal the victory.
“They’ve been like that all year for us,” Byrd said. “I don’t think it’s going to stop. We have a lot of confidence in them. We know if we’re not moving the ball like we should, we can kick the ball away and they’re going to get it right back to us. I have total confidence in all three aspects of our team.”
Fuluvaka had three sacks to lead Grantsville, and Thomas had a team-high 10 tackles. Bartley, Bohman, Garrett Behunin and Jonas Floyd each had a sack. Offensively, Sandberg was 9-for-17 for 108 yards and Wood had three catches for 57 yards. Trent Brown ran for 80 yards on 16 carries and Fuluvaka added 60 yards on 10 carries.
Grantsville will play host to Juan Diego in its second-to-last game of the regular season Friday night. The Cowboys will wrap up Region 13 play Oct. 16 at home against Morgan.