Saturday , November 11, 2017 - 6:33 PM
OGDEN — They may not have walked off Weber State’s Stewart Stadium field with their first state championship since 1997, but to Morgan head coach Kovi Christiansen, the Trojans have nothing to hang their heads about.
Juan Diego exploded for 355 yards of offense and 31 points in the first half Saturday, derailing Morgan’s effort to claim its third consecutive state title with a 45-20 decision in the 3A championship game.
The Soaring Eagle also defeated the Trojans in the 2015 state championship game, 28-13, and have now finished first in state eight times in the 18-year history of the school.
“I’m pretty proud of these guys,” an emotional Christiansen said. “At the start of this season, we lost two kids’ (sophomore Jamesen Burradton and senior Dalton Hansen) dads. (This team) just got better. They jelled together. They loved one another.
“We put everything for those two kids. We came together as a team. I’m proud of them. I love them.”
After scraping by in two preceding playoff games by one point — on failed two-point conversions by its opponents Grantsville and Summit Academy — the Soaring Eagle seemed determined not to keep this one close.
Morgan couldn’t have scripted a worse start on its quest for the seventh state championship in school history.
On the third play from scrimmage, quarterback Jacob Stephens was sacked and fumbled at the Morgan 13. Two plays later, Juan Diego quarterback Zachary Hoffman dove into the end zone to make it 7-0 just over a minute into the contest.
To its credit, Morgan struck back, embarking on an 80-yard scoring drive. Talon Polad hauled in a 42-yard reception and Stephens then found Jacob Rounkles in the end zone to tie the score 7-7.
“They climbed right out of it pretty quick, and I’m proud of them for the way that we came back down and scored and tied it up,” Christiansen said. “This team’s done that all year. If something bad goes against us then they pull up their pants and they get to work. I’m proud of their resiliency.”
The Trojan defense couldn’t find a way to contain the Juan Diego triple option, however, as the Soaring Eagle ended five of six first-half possessions with points.
Following the Morgan touchdown, Juan Diego immediately reclaimed the lead for good. Dallen Davis found Hoffman on a catch-and-run for 76 yards to take the ball to the Morgan 4. Two plays later, Hoffman recorded his second 2-yard TD run of the day to put the Soaring Eagle up 14-7.
Morgan turned the ball over again on its next possession with a fumble at the end of a 38-yard pass play into Juan Diego territory, stalling a big opportunity.
Alex Saunders booted a 42-yard field goal and Hoffman hit Hunter Easterly on a 72-yard scoring pass less than midway through the second quarter to extend the Juan Diego lead to 24-7.
Morgan bit into the deficit on a 3-yard Porter Giles scamper, but the Soaring Eagle stormed right back with a big play — this time a 45-yard Tristen Tonozzi scoring run — putting Juan Diego up 31-14 at the half.
“When you’re playing Juan Diego, you just can’t make mistakes; you can’t beat yourself,” Christiansen said. “We would have had to play a perfect game. And we knew that we had to play good and that we had to play clean ...
“I credit my boys. They kept playing hard and they kept trying to make things happen.”
In spite of the porous first half, the Morgan defense turned things around for a spell in the third quarter to get the large, partisan Trojan crowd involved. They held Juan Diego scoreless in the third period but were unable to take advantage of the opportunity offensively.
“We switched a few things up (at halftime), but we just got caught in a couple of coverages that we’d practiced all week,” Christiansen said. “The tempo you practice against with a scout offense and then the tempo that Juan Diego hits you with, it’s a little tough to prepare for. We had a couple of communication breakdowns. You just can’t do that and be state champions. “
Morgan pulled the score to 31-20 with 9:26 to play on a 34-yard Stephens to Giles pass play, but two late Juan Diego touchdowns by Hoffman and Easterly accounted for the final score.
Juan Diego finished with 557 yards of total offense (319 rushing, 238 passing), while Morgan threw for 314 yards, but could only muster 60 on the ground.
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