For the first — and only — time all season, an opponent found a way to slow down Stansbury’s high-powered offense.
As a result, the Stallions’ run in the Class 4A state football playoffs came to a heartbreaking end Friday night in southern Utah. Third-seeded Snow Canyon, owners of 4A’s third-stingiest defense, limited No. 6 Stansbury to a lone field goal in the second half and got just enough offense of its own to stun the Stallions 20-19 in a quarterfinal-round game in Santa Clara.
Four minutes into the second half, Stansbury (8-3) appeared to be in firm control of the game — though it was the Stallions’ underrated defense that was making the biggest impact. The Stallions led 19-7 after a 22-yard Kolton Loertscher field goal, and had forced Warriors quarterback Landon Frei to throw two interceptions — as many as he had thrown in Snow Canyon’s previous 10 games combined.
Koy McGee’s first-quarter interception set up Nate Bushnell’s 2-yard touchdown run with 9:43 left in the first quarter, giving the Stallions a 7-0 lead. Frei found Will Warner for a 52-yard touchdown pass that tied the score with 5:33 left in the quarter, but Stansbury regained the lead when Bridger Thomas sacked Frei in the end zone for a safety with 3:24 remaining in the frame. Cayden Clark caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Kru Huxford with 10 seconds left in the first half to extend Stansbury’s advantage to 16-7.
However, the Warriors (10-1) took advantage of costly Stansbury mistakes in the second half to get back in the game. After Loertscher’s field goal, the Stallions appeared to force Snow Canyon into a three-and-out, but were flagged for a 5-yard roughing-the-kicker penalty on a Warriors punt on fourth-and-4. That extended Snow Canyon’s possession, and Frei connected with Jordan Wade for a 45-yard pass on third-and-6 to move the Warriors into the red zone. A 2-yard run by Drake Kelly on third-and-1 kept things moving, and on fourth-and-goal from the 9, Frei found Wade for a touchdown that cut Stansbury’s lead to 19-14 with 3:01 left in the third quarter.
Stansbury appeared undeterred by the Warriors’ scoring drive, moving the ball into Snow Canyon territory with a steady rushing game led by quarterback Huxford and running back Bushnell. A pair of timely short passes from Huxford to Pae Tia also kept the drive moving. The Stallions were on the verge of breaking into the red zone on a 10-yard pass from Huxford to Cayden Clark, but the Warriors forced a fumble and recovered the ball on their own 25 to bring Stansbury’s drive to a halt.
Snow Canyon then took its first — and only — lead of the game on its ensuing possession. A pair of third-down conversions helped the Warriors move the ball deep into Stansbury territory, including a 15-yard pass-interference call on the Stallions on third-and-7 that set Snow Canyon up on the Stallions’ 29. Three plays later, on third-and-6, Frei hit a diving Logan Mendenhall near the left pylon for a 25-yard touchdown pass. The Warriors’ two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving them with a one-point lead with 6:51 left in the game.
Stansbury had a pair of possessions over the game’s final minutes, but were stopped each time. On a third-and-5 play from the Stallions’ 49, Huxford had a 5-yard gain erased by a 5-yard illegal shift penalty. Forced into a long-yardage situation, Huxford had his third-down pass knocked down at the line of scrimmage, and a deep ball to Brandon Funk fell incomplete on fourth down.
The Stallions forced a Snow Canyon punt with just over two minutes left, gaining possession at their own 15-yard line. Three runs by Huxford moved Stansbury to the 31, and a 10-yard pass to Clark gained a first down at the 41. However, the comeback attempt stalled, as Huxford’s third-down pass to Tia fell incomplete and his fourth-down attempt was intercepted by Jacob Wittwer with 45 seconds left in the contest, allowing the Warriors to run out the clock.
Stansbury, which came in averaging a 4A-best 47.9 points per game, hadn’t scored fewer than 27 points in a game until Friday night. The Stallions’ defense, on the other hand, was 4.7 points better than its season average. Stansbury had 300 yards of offense to the Warriors’ 271 in a somewhat-unexpected defensive struggle.
Huxford carried the ball 24 times for 127 yards, and was 16-of-25 through the air for 129 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Bushnell had 41 rushing yards on 16 carries and Clark had five catches for 47 yards. Tia caught five passes for 23 yards and Funk had three catches for 32 yards.
Frei was 15-of-32 for 202 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for Snow Canyon.
The Warriors will face No. 2 Pine View in a state semifinal game Friday in Washington City. The winner will face either No. 1 Sky View or No. 4 Ridgeline for the state championship Nov. 21 at Dixie State University in St. George.