The Sand Devils football team easily defeated the Ganado Hornets 30-14 at last Friday’s homecoming game. The Hornets at least kept it interesting for the first half of the game.
The Sand Devils struck first, scoring a touchdown on the first drive. Starting from their own 33-yard line they advanced the ball on large-yardage runs from running back Kele Meredith and quarterback Jacob Doyle. Doyle finished the drive on a designed quarterback keeper to give the Sand Devils a 6-0 lead. The PAT was unsuccessful.
Ganado was forced to punt on the next possession after a Jared Mountain sack on third down pinned them deep in Sand Devils territory.
The Sand Devils have a great running game, but their passing attack has suffered throughout the season and it did so again Friday night. They were moving the ball steadily down the field on their second possession on big run gains from Doyle, Meredith and Hayden Gracia but it sputtered at the end with three incomplete passes, the last one on fourth down.
And that was precisely when Ganado got its passing game going, intermixed with some effective scrambles from their quarterback. A successful pass to an open wide receiver tied the game 6-6 with 5:01 left in the first quarter. Their extra point sailed wide right.
Page’s next drive ended with an interception on the Ganado 40-yard line and a few plays and two minutes later they turned it into six more points. This time they went for two on the PAT and their quarterback found an open receiver in the corner of the end zone to the give the Hornets a 14-6 lead with 24 seconds left in the half.
But that was the Hornets last score of the night, and the Sand Devils offense was about to get fired up. But the spark and the momentum shift came courtesy of their defensive end, Cheyenne Richardson, who ended a Ganado drive with a big sack when the Hornets went for it on fourth down.
Starting from their own 36-yard line, the Sand Devils brought it down the field with runs split between Gracia, Meredith and Doyle and a successful fourth-down pass to Jeremy Tallsalt. Gracia ran it in from the 9-yard line for the score. After a missed PAT pass to Kimball Begay, the score read 14-12 for Ganado.
The Sand Devils got the ball back just seconds later after they recovered an onside kick; something they have done often throughout the season. The third quarter expired half way through their drive.
Starting from the 48, Meredith and Doyle marched the ball down the field in three to six yard bites and finished it with an 11-yard touchdown run from Doyle, which gave his team an 18-14 advantage.
Ganado went four and out on the next drive and Page followed that with a four and score, this time on big runs from Doyle and Gracia. Gracia added six more points on a touchdown run from the 8-yard line. They led by 10 after a failed PAT.
Ganado was stitching together a decent drive, but it died in the arms of Doyle, who intercepted a pass on the Sand Devils 2-yard line. He ran it back 80 yards, weaving and dodging through a helter-skelter of Ganado traffic, finally brought down at the Sand Devils 12-yard line.
Four plays later, Meredith added his name to the touchdown column with a one yard blast up the middle to give his team a 30-14 lead, which would be the game’s final score.
“I was not happy with our first half,” said Coach Stephens. “I feel like we came out flat. I know there were a bunch of distractions on Friday with Homecoming. I was pleased with the way they responded in the second half.”
The Sand Devils find themselves in a favorable position as they enter the season’s fourth quarter. They play their final two regular season games at home, both against weaker opponents (at least, on paper), and they still have a healthy team. They’ve only lost one key player to injury this year.
“We aren’t making any drastic changes,” said Coach Stephens regarding his offense, defense, special teams and individual players. “We’ll make slight adjustments each week to try to gain an edge on our opponents.”
The Sand Devils are sitting on a good record going the season’s final two games, but this is where Coach Stephens is careful not to get ahead of the game.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “We have to focus on the opponent each week. Fortunately, we have a bye week before the playoffs. If we get in, we’ll have a couple weeks to prepare for our playoff opponent.”
Meredith had 23 carries for 156 yards and one touchdown. Gracia had 15 carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns. Doyle had 19 carries for 119 yards, two touchdowns and one fumble. Jeremy Tallsalt had one reception for 12 yards.
The Sand Devils host the 5-3 Tuba City Warriors this Friday night. Kickoff is at 7.