This past weekend, one of the most successful Tooele County high school football seasons in the past two decades came to a close — but it sure felt like more of a beginning than an ending.
Yes, Stansbury was eliminated in a 42-14 loss to Dixie in the Class 4A quarterfinals, and Grantsville’s season ended less than 24 hours later with a 22-20 loss to Juab in the Class 3A semifinals. As always, there are a lot of talented seniors who played the final football games of their careers, and they’ll be sorely missed when the Stallions and Cowboys take the field again next August. But there is so much optimism surrounding both programs, and so much reason to believe that they’ve only scratched the surface of what they can become.
First: Stansbury. When the Stallions were eliminated from the 2018 postseason by Pine View, it felt like the end of an era — partially because it was. Clint Christiansen, the only head coach the Stallions had ever had, retired following the season, and was replaced by former Ben Lomond coach Eric Alder. The vaunted triple-option offense that was a Stallions trademark was gone, to be replaced by a new, fast-paced spread attack. Nobody knew what to expect.
Some thought it might be a down year in Stansbury Park. Alder and the Stallions had other ideas. Buoyed by a strong senior class, Stansbury lost just one region game and finished second in Region 10. The Stallions had a thrilling second-round playoff victory over Mountain Crest that came down to the final minute.
The reason for optimism is this year’s junior class — next year’s seniors. That class is simply loaded. Christiansen bragged about them when they were sophomores, and they stepped up time and time again. After all, it was a pair of juniors — quarterback Kru Huxford and wide receiver Cayden Clark — who combined for the game-winning touchdown pass against Mountain Crest, extending the seniors’ playing careers for an additional week. The Class of 2021 also includes the likes of Pae Tia, Brandon Funk, Daxton Brown and Bryce Gordon, to name a few.
While there will be some key holes to fill, something tells me the Stallions will be just fine next season.
The same can be said for Grantsville. It will be hard for the Cowboys to say goodbye to so many top contributors, including their leading passer (Jackson Sandberg), their top two rushers (Trent Brown and James Fuluvaka), four of their top five receivers (Ammon Bartley, Taylor Wood, Chace Gipson and Daltyn Peasnall), a defensive force (Eathen Brinkerhoff) and some stalwart linemen (Austin Gray, Chaz Shafer and Gauge Pyne). But the cupboard is never bare at Grantsville.
Remember when Sandberg was hurt at the beginning of the season? Backup quarterback Logan White was great, bordering on spectacular. He’ll be a senior next year. Blake Thomas will be a junior and should be a force in the running and passing games. Noah Mouritsen will be a senior at wide receiver. On the line? Jonas Floyd, Branson Yager and Landon Gumucio will all be back. And on defense, the Cowboys return maybe the most disruptive force in all of Class 3A football in do-it-all defensive back Kaden Kelley.
Oh, and there’s the trend that every year since coach Kody Byrd took charge of the Cowboys, Grantsville has gotten better. Any improvement on this past season, which was the Cowboys’ best in terms of wins since 1998 and their best in terms of finish since 2005, would mean one thing: bringing home a trophy.
The Cowboys certainly appear capable of doing just that next season.
Even over at Tooele, where the season didn’t go as well as the Buffaloes and first-year coach Andru Jones would have hoped, there is reason to believe. Athletes like Nukuluve Helu, Kulani Iongi, Gavin Ware and Joe Douglas aren’t easily replaced, but with players like Ty Sutherland, Kameron Rolle, Drake Gritzmacher, Tabor Shepard, Malakai Sedillo and Dominic Ashcraft all playing key roles as underclassmen in 2019, look for the Buffaloes to continue to build toward contention.
This season was fun to watch, but it might just be a preview of things to come.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He thoroughly enjoyed watching two playoff football games come down to the final seconds over the past two weeks. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.