Throughout the 2017 season the Sand Devils have been a second half team, making halftime adjustments to their opponents’ style of play and implementing them with great affect in the second half.
But that was not the case last Saturday when they played Benjamin Franklin High School in the first round of the state playoffs, losing to the Chargers 34-14.
The Chargers found the endzone first, which came in the opening minute of the second quarter, but were unsuccessful on their PAT attempt.
The Sand Devils offense responded immediately. Starting from their own 30 yard line they advanced the ball in three to eight yard runs from Kele Meredith and Hayden Gracia. They finished the drive with a 30 yard touchdown pass from Jacob Doyle who connected with Mikaio Warner eight yards deep in the endzone to tie the game at six.
Jeremy Tallsalt ran the ball into the endzone during the PAT to give the Sand Devils an 8-6 lead with seven minutes left in the first half.
The Sand Devils increased their lead 14-8 a few minutes later after Kimball Begay intercepted a Chargers’ screen pass and returned it 70 yards to the endzone. The PAT was no good, but the game’s momentum shifted firmly to the Sand Devils for the remainder of the half. But Begay’s touchdown would be Page’s last points of the game.
The next Chargers’ possession ended when Gracia sacked the Chargers quarterback on fourth and 12, and Christian Penrod ended the Chargers’ fifth drive when he intercepted a pass with just eight seconds left in the half.
But the second half of the game belonged entirely to the Chargers. They started the third quarter on offense and needed just two plays to go 54 yards for their next touchdown. After a failed PAT they still trailed 14-12, but you could feel the momentum shifting over to them.
The Chargers defense held the Sand Devils to a three and out, then once more made their way to the endzone, taking the lead for the first time, 18-14. Just as importantly, the Chargers now had momentum squarely on their side and wouldn’t relinquish it for the remainder of the game.
The Sand Devils running game, which has been productive and reliable throughout the regular season – with running duties split between Meredith, Gracia and Doyle – sputtered in the fourth quarter. The Sand Devils offense turned to their passing game as they tried to get something started. They have struggled with their passing game all season long and their passing woes continued Saturday night with their final four possessions ending with interceptions, one of which was returned 80 yards for a touchdown. Meanwhile the Chargers steadily added to their lead. The final score was 34-14.
Despite Saturday’s playoff elimination, the Sand Devils completed the season with one of the best records they’ve had in years, finishing with eight wins and three losses.
Head football coach Mitchell Stephens says his players played well this year.
“I’d love to still be playing but I can’t take anything away from the success that these guys have had this year,” he said. “We accomplished several of our goals. Obviously, we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal but I think that will make us work harder.”
Coach Stephens saw his team improve every week.
“Even in Saturday’s loss, I saw great things,” he said.
Coach Stephens is already looking forward to next season and is optimistic his team will only improve.
“We’ll have to replace some great football players, but we’re returning some really talented players. I’m thankful for the seniors to set the bar high.”