All season long, the Grantsville football team imposed its will on teams in the second half with a dominating defense and an opportunistic offense.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, it wasn’t quite enough in Saturday’s Class 3A semifinal state playoff game against Juab at Mountain View High School in Orem. The Cowboys trailed 22-7 early in the fourth quarter and nearly came all the way back, but quarterback Jackson Sandberg’s desperation heave as time expired was knocked away by a Wasps defender to preserve Juab’s 22-20 victory.
“We had a chance to win it,” Grantsville coach Kody Byrd said. “The boys competed and did everything we asked. We told them to fight to the end, and they fought right ‘til the end — literally. We could have had them — just a couple little breaks.”
Grantsville (10-3), the No. 3 seed in the Class 3A playoff bracket, began its comeback attempt just after Juab’s Zac Cowan scored a touchdown on a 1-yard quarterback sneak on the opening play of the fourth quarter. The Cowboys got the ball on their own 21-yard line, and Sandberg orchestrated a 10-play drive over the next 4:51 to help Grantsville slice into the Wasps’ lead. The drive featured two clutch third-down runs by Trent Brown to keep the chains moving, while Sandberg was 6-for-6 for 62 yards through the air. After a 9-yard completion to Chace Gipson gave GHS a first-and-10 on the Wasps’ 34-yard line, Sandberg went deep down the right sideline to Gipson for a 34-yard touchdown with seven minutes left.
As No. 2 Juab (12-1) had a successful two-point conversion earlier in the contest, the Cowboys decided to go for two after Gipson’s score. However, Sandberg’s pass to Brown fell short, leaving Grantsville behind 22-13 and still needing two scores to win.
The Wasps’ next drive stalled, giving Grantsville the ball back on its own 4-yard line with 3:01 left and all three of its timeouts. A 15-yard pass-interference penalty on Juab got the Cowboys out of the shadow of their own goalpost, and a 20-yard pass from Sandberg to Gipson moved the ball into Juab territory. It appeared Grantsville had found paydirt when Sandberg hit Ammon Bartley for a 39-yard pass down the right sideline, but Bartley was ruled down at the 1-yard line. Sandberg ran the ball in on the next play to close the gap to two points with 1:37 left.
Still, the Cowboys had two timeouts remaining, and they used that to their advantage to get one final shot when the Wasps threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-20 with just over a second left.
“We had a chance to make something happen at the end,” Byrd said. “That’s all you can ever ask for.”
The fact Grantsville was even in position to win the game was impressive, considering its rough start to the afternoon. A long return on the opening kickoff gave the Wasps the ball near midfield, and 19 yards of penalties on the Cowboys helped Juab move the ball deep into the red zone. Cade Bowring’s 4-yard touchdown run with 9:53 left in the first quarter put the Wasps up 7-0.
Sandberg found himself under siege on Grantsville’s first possession, as he had to rush a throw to Gipson on first down and was sacked for an 11-yard loss on second down. That led to a punt, and the Cowboys managed just one first down in the entire first quarter.
Juab, on the other hand, had its offense going early. Despite a three-and-out on the Wasps’ second possession, Juab put together a 12-play, 83-yard masterpiece the next time it had the ball. Bowring had a 14-yard gain on third-and-1 from the Wasps’ 26, and a 9-yard run on fourth-and-3 from Grantsville’s 32.
Three plays later, Cowan connected with Bowring for a 26-yard touchdown, and an offside penalty against the Cowboys on the point-after attempt inspired the Wasps to attempt a two-point conversion. Bowring ran it in to extend the lead to 15-0.
“(Juab) was just different up front at first, and I think it shocked (the Cowboys) a little bit,” Byrd said. “Once we got settled down and played our game, that second half, we came out and played. Once we figured out what was happening, the defense came and started playing.
“That’s a great team. Juab didn’t make any mistakes. We didn’t get as many stops as we needed — we had to get off on third downs and we just couldn’t get it done.”
It appeared Grantsville might cut into Juab’s lead just before halftime, as the Cowboys moved the ball to the Wasps’ 7-yard line in the final few minutes of the second quarter as part of an 11-play drive that started near midfield. However, a second-and-6 play led to a 15-yard chop-block penalty against the Cowboys, and Sandberg’s next three pass attempts all fell incomplete as Grantsville turned the ball over on downs.
The Cowboys seemed to take some momentum from that drive into the second half, where they got the ball to start the third quarter. Sandberg hit Blake Thomas with a 3-yard pass on third-and-3 from the Grantsville 42 to keep the drive alive, and James Fuluvaka completed a 7-yard pass to Brown on a fake punt on fourth-and-5 at midfield. Brown also had a 1-yard run on third-and-1 at the Juab 34 to set up Sandberg’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Wood for Grantsville’s first touchdown of the game.
Sandberg was 24-for-33 for 246 yards and no interceptions. Bartley caught eight passes for 95 yards, Wood had six catches for 59 yards and Gipson had three catches for 63 yards. Grantsville outgained Juab 314-212 in total yards.
Defensively, the Cowboys were led by Eathen Brinkerhoff, who had 10 tackles. Kaden Kelley had six tackles and a tackle-for-loss, while Bartley had six tackles and Fuluvaka had two tackles-for-loss.
It was a disappointing end to an incredible season for the Cowboys, who advanced to the semifinal for the first time since 2005 and were seeking their first trip to the title game since 2003.
“We’re building,” Byrd said. “Hopefully, we continue to take the next step, the next step and the next step. We’re not here yet — we haven’t arrived — and I think we’ve got to get back to work. We’re losing some great seniors, but these other kids have got to step up and use what’s been taught to them and continue on.”
Juab will face No. 5 Morgan in the Class 3A state championship game Friday at 4 p.m. at Dixie State University in St. George. Morgan beat No. 1 North Sanpete 10-7 in Saturday’s other semifinal game.