A stellar defensive play on the final play of the game gave Grantsville one of its biggest football victories in recent years on Friday.
The Templars had just scored a touchdown in overtime to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 34-33 with the extra point attempt to come. Manti opted to end the game with a two-point try instead of kick a PAT for a chance at a second overtime. A successful two-point conversion would mean sweet victory for Manti and bitter defeat for Grantsville.
Manti tried a run to the left side of the line with Kamren Fowles carrying the ball. It was a play that had worked all night for the Templars. Manti had just scored a 3-yard touchdown with the same play.
Fowles was buried behind the line of scrimmage by a host of Grantsville defenders on the 2-point attempt, and the played secured a huge victory against a team considered the best in 3A football. Mitchel Terrell got in on the final play to slow down Fowles and Nick Arbon made sure he didn’t twist into the end zone.
Grantsville coach Tony Cloward said the Cowboys knew where the play was headed.
“That was their favorite play and it was their only successfully play they really had going the whole game. We knew it was coming,” Cloward said. “Our defense wasn’t exactly stellar tonight, but they made the plays when they had to.”
Grantsville joins Juan Diego as the only team to defeat Manti the past three years. Manti won the last two 2A state football championships, and had beaten 4A’s Mountain View and Provo before facing the Cowboys this season.
The game started out sweet for the Cowboys.
Grantsville came up big on defense on Manti’s second possession. On first-and-15 from the Manti 30, Wyatt Smith blitzed and delivered a big hit on Manti quarterback Connor Aste, which knocked the ball to the ground. Also attacking on the play was Wyatt Barrus who scooped it up and ran in for a 22-yard touchdown. The PAT failed.
After the Cowboys sniffed out a reverse, the Templars were forced to punt deep in their own territory. A bobbled snap allowed no time for the Manti punter to kick, and he tried to get rid of the ball, which rolled out of bounds at the Manti 13.
Cowboy quarterback Nephi Meono then swung a pass out in the flat to Ky Fisher who raced to the end zone to give Grantsville a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. Ethan Steinfeldt kicked the PAT.
Good fortune seemed to continue for Grantsville on Manti’s next punt. Nick Arbon grabbed the punt at his 30-yard line, turned on the jets and raced 70 yards for a touchdown, but a holding penalty negated the play.
The Cowboys finally made a serious mistake when they allowed Manti to block a punt that gave the Templars the ball at the Grantsville 25 with 5:36 left until halftime.
Grantsville’s defense held the Templars in check for three plays. But then on fourth-and-5 at the Grantsville 20, Aste connected on a a 20-yard touchdown pass to Brad Sego. With the PAT it was 13-7 Cowboys with 3:06 until intermission.
Manti sacked the GHS quarterback on the next series, and forced the Cowboys to punt it right back. The Templars ended up with great field position at their own 49 with 1:45 until intermission. On third down, Aste connected with Sego again across the middle and Sego sprinted to the end zone for a 49-yard TD reception. The PAT made it 14-13 Manti with under 1 minute until halftime.
Grantsville’s woes late in the first half continued when it fumbled on its next offensive play, which gave the ball back to Manti at the GHS 32.
The Cowboy defense tightened up with solid pass coverage and a sack to give Manti one last fourth-down play as the clock wound down to end the first half. Anticipating a timeout by Manti with 1 second to go in the half, which would allow the Templars one final shot at the end zone before halftime, Grantsville called a timeout with 3 seconds to make sure the defense knew how to defend a long deep pass to end the half.
Unfortunately for Grantsville, the Templars completed a Hail Mary for a third quick second-quarter touchdown to lead 20-13 at intermission. Grantsville blocked the PAT.
With a flurry of points in the final 6 minutes of the second quarter, it seemed that Manti had gained momentum and might take charge in the second half.
The Cowboys had other plans.
“We got after [the players] at halftime,” Cloward said. “We told the kids that they had been waiting for this opportunity to prove that they were more than just an average football team. That they are as good as a our neighbors. That they now had the opportunity to go out and prove they were a great football team. They came out in the second half and proved it.”
Grantsville didn’t waste any time with an 11-play offensive drive for a touchdown, which included three third-down conversions. The drive burned close to 5 minutes off the clock. Big plays included a third-down 32-yard pass play to Smith, 7-yard keeper by Meono, 18-yard run by Fisher, 5-yard run by Meono, 6-yard run by Smith and 3-yard TD run by Fisher.
“You really have to give credit to our offensive line,” the Meono said after the game. “They practiced hard all week. I believe in this offensive line.”
Those main interior offensive linemen include Lane Matthews, Cade Coon, Jeff Tuckett, Carson Stroh and Colton Adams.
After Grantsville tied the game, Manti came back with a lengthy drive of its own that consumed 7:30. The Templars drove 82 yards for a touchdown with 11:54 left in the game to go up 27-20.
On Manti’s next drive they were helped by a pair of personal foul penalties with a blow to the head and a flag on the Grantsville sideline. The penalties moved the ball from the Manti 38 to the Grantsville 30. The Templars could not get past the 27 with a strong defensive stand by the Cowboys. Arbon batted down a pass and Noah Mecham busted through the line for a sack on fourth down.
Grantsville came back to tie the game at 27-27 with a brilliant 68-yard drive under the direction of Meono.
The GHS quarterback saved the day on fourth-and-five at his own 48 when he read the defense, faked a handoff and scooted down to the Manti 40 to keep the drive alive.
“Their best defensive player was number 38, and we would run at him and make him make a decision,” Meono said. The quarterback also knew when to hand off inside. He gave to Alax Meono inside on the next play and Alax ran to the 27.
In another pressure situation at fourth-and-3 at the 25, Nephi Meono kept again and got a great block from Fisher to take the ball to the house for a touchdown. The PAT made it 27-27 with 2:20 in the game.
“I thought our quarterback grew up tonight in a big way from the first half to the second half. His reads were perfect in the second half,” Cloward said.
Manti then had a great kick return to the Grantsville 29, but the Cowboys held out the Templars again thanks to a sack on fourth down by Jacob Riding.
Manti won the coin toss prior to overtime and opted to play defense first to see what they needed to do on offense.
A GHS QB sneak went for 10 yards, and Meono kept again two plays later for a 10-yard TD run. The PAT made it 34-27.
Grantsville had solid moments defending in OT with a sack by Coon. But on third-and-goal from the 17, Manti fired a another pass to Sego who was tackled at the 3 yard line. Fowles then plunged into the end zone to slice Grantsville’s lead to 34-33. Manti could not covert on the 2-point try, and Grantsville fans began the celebration.
The Cowboys play at Juab Friday before opening league play at Carbon on Sept. 20.