The Stansbury football team showed just how far it had come in the past two months Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, but it wasn’t quite enough.
The Stallions fell 17-7 to Mountain Crest in a Class 4A state semifinal playoff game, ending Stansbury’s season one game short of its ultimate goal. But after a 52-19 loss to the Mustangs in Week 4, the Stallions knew they had accomplished a lot just in getting as far as they did.
“I think we made a statement that Stansbury’s here to compete,” Stansbury quarterback Mitch Lindsay said. “Everyone doubted us from the beginning. No one really thought that we’d be a really good team.”
Mountain Crest (12-1) opened the game with a 12-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, culminating in a 30-yard scoring pass from Brady Hall to Nick Nethercott. They added to their lead on a 33-yard field goal by Eli Wells early in the second quarter after Stansbury (8-4) fumbled the ball away near midfield, and extended the lead to 17-0 at halftime after a late touchdown run by Beau Robinson.
“That’s what these big games come down to — somebody makes a play and the other team flinches, and we flinched at the wrong time,” Stansbury coach Clint Christiansen said. “We didn’t quit, though. It was a great effort.”
As they did all season long, the Stallions played a much stronger second half. It began with a strong kickoff return that set them up near midfield, and 11 plays and 57 yards later, senior Tavita Gagnier ran it in from 5 yards out to pull the Stallions within 10 points.
Mountain Crest fumbled on its ensuing possession and Calvin “Jebus” Mead recovered for Stansbury on the Mustangs’ 48-yard line. The Stallions drove down inside the red zone, but Jay Mackay’s 34-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right of the narrower college uprights used at Rice-Eccles.
Stansbury’s defense continued to hold strong, keeping the Stallions in the game. A Mountain Crest drive stalled out just outside the red zone, and Wells missed a 42-yard field goal attempt wide left with 6:15 left in the game. The Stallions responded with a quick drive, as Lindsay connected with Gagnier on a 46-yard pass and found Brenden VanCooney and Justin Matthews later in the drive as Stansbury got down to the Mustangs’ 10-yard line in the final minutes.
A 6-yard loss on second-and-goal forced the Stallions to turn to the passing game. On third down, Lindsay’s throw to Matthews in the back corner of the end zone was off the mark. Rather than attempting a field goal to close the gap to seven points and then attempting an onside kick, Stansbury opted to go for it on fourth down, but Lindsay’s pass to Conner McKay was off-target, allowing Mountain Crest to run out the clock.
“We had some shots, but we didn’t get them tonight,” Christiansen said.
The Stallions actually outgained the Mustangs 342-332, a vast improvement from the first time the teams met. Alix Taukeiaho and Dallon Brooks each had 14 tackles for Stansbury, while Brooks also had a fumble recovery.
Offensively, Lindsay was 7-for-18 for 124 yards through the air and led the Stallions with 77 yards on the ground. Silas Young had 73 yards rushing, and Gagnier rushed for 49 yards and added 55 yards receiving. McKay had 49 yards on three receptions.
“We’re a different team,” Lindsay said. “We got closer together as a team. We bonded. Mountain Crest is a really good team, but I think we could have been with them a lot closer.”
While the Stallions were disappointed to see their season come to a close, their coach couldn’t have been prouder of them and the progress they made throughout the season, particularly after stumbling to a 1-3 start in the preseason.
“Our kids are so relentless,” Christiansen said. “They play so hard. I couldn’t ask any more out of them. The one thing you can’t coach is heart, and nobody can question these guys’ heart. I’m proud of them.
“I told my wife at football camp, ‘I think we’ve got a chance to be a pretty good football team,’ and then we jumped out in those first four games and she started thinking I’m losing my mind. I said, ‘I really think we’re going to be a good football team down the stretch,’ and we started slowly getting better and better and better as the season moved on. There’s a lot of other teams who wish they were playing here, and they’re sitting at home.”
Mountain Crest will meet Orem for the Class 4A championship Friday at 11 a.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.