Broncos advance to first state football title game since 2012 with convincing semifinal win

On a cool morning this past Saturday, November 6 the San Juan High School football players and coaches arrived at the Eccles Coliseum at Southern Utah University in Cedar City with one thing on their minds – beating the Summit Academy Bears in the 2A state semifinals.

At 10 a.m. it was the earliest kickoff of the season for the Broncos, the first of four games that would be played on the day, including both 2A semifinal matchups and both 3A semifinal games.

The first game of the day always presents a challenge for both players and coaches, but right from the opening kickoff, San Juan was clearly ready to go.

Starting from their own 20 after the kick resulted in a touchback, the Bronco offense took just nine plays and 2:59 to drive 80 yards for the first score of the game.

Two acrobatic catches by Ladd Ivins were instrumental in the drive – a 16-yarder and a big 29-yard reception where he laid out for a nearly impossible grab at the Summit Academy five yard line.

Quarterback Jace Palmer was also impressive on the ground during the Broncos’ first drive, rattling off a 24-yard run that got them across midfield into Bear territory for the first time.

With a third-and-goal situation and the ball at the Summit one yard line, San Juan went a little deeper into the playbook, bringing big Bronson Snyder in at tight end.

He went in motion, then quickly slid back under center to take a direct snap and sneak into the end zone for the game’s opening touchdown. The Broncos’ PAT failed, and their lead remained 6-0 temporarily.

Just over a minute later with Summit Academy driving early in their opening possession, Bronco cornerback Collin Baker got a fortuitous deflection and climbed the ladder for his first interception of the day, returning it 30 yards to the Bear 17.

Three plays and 1:11 later Jace Palmer found a soft spot in the Summit defense, faking a handoff to Jensen Grover, then taking the ball himself right up the middle for a nine-yard touchdown scamper, increasing the lead to 12-0.

San Juan forced the Bears to punt on their next possession, and continuing to use a no-huddle format, they drove the ball from their own 45 the length of the field in just six plays and 1:54 for their third straight touchdown.

Again Palmer was key, and the scoring drive culminated with a couple big running plays from the Bronco quarterback, including his second rushing touchdown of the day, once again from nine yards out.

Down 20-0, Summit Academy finally mustered their first drive of the game, beginning at their own 35 with 3:06 left in the first quarter. Three first downs later, the Bears found themselves at the San Juan 30, but facing a fourth-down situation.

That’s when the most “interesting” play of the day occurred. With 0:00 showing on the clock for about three seconds, officials inexplicably allowed the ball to be snapped.

The play resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Summit quarterback Devin Watson to Grand County transfer Chance Arbon.

When kicker Kyson Andolsek added the extra point, it trimmed the San Juan lead to 20-7 at the end of one quarter.

Though the touchdown helped keep Summit Academy within the 35-point limit which would have given the Broncos a running clock in the second half, it fortunately had no effect on the ultimate outcome of the game.

From that point, San Juan continued their offensive onslaught, punching in three more touchdowns in the second quarter, including a 70-yard pick-six by Collin Baker, his second interception on the day.

The Broncos never allowed the Bears to get within three touchdowns in the second half, though Summit outscored San Juan 22-13 in the third quarter.

The Broncos had outscored the Bears 20-7 in the first, 20-6 in the second, and they scored the lone touchdown in the fourth quarter on the way to a convincing 60-35 win.

It propels the top-seeded team into the 2A Utah State Championship Game for the first time since their head coach, Barkley Christensen led them there as a quarterback in 2012.

After his team’s impressive win, Christensen said, “We knew that was a high-powered offense. They have a lot of good athletes, but so do we. We just knew if we could get turnovers early and smack ’em in the mouth we could make this one ours.”

Smack ’em in the mouth the Broncos did. They racked up 573 yards of total offense against the Bears. All eight offensive touchdowns came on the ground, which is a departure from the usual San Juan stat line.

The Broncos ran for 272 yards on the day with quarterback Jace Palmer leading the way with four touchdowns. Jensen Grover ran for three TDs in the win, and Bronson Snyder’s opening volley accounted for the other.

Palmer was an outstanding 16 of 18 on pass attempts for 301 yards. Though he didn’t throw for any touchdowns, the very effective passing game played a large role in all the scoring drives.

And enough can’t be said about the Bronco defense, which has been huge down the home stretch of the season.

It held the Summit Academy offense to a paltry 14 yards rushing and ensured that the Bears remained one-dimensional for the entire game.

Summit quarterback Devin Watson did complete 31 of his 50 pass attempts for 477 yards and five touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions on the day.

Along with Baker’s two picks, Jerzy Nieves also got one. And San Juan’s big guys gave Watson all the pressure he could handle.

Bronson Snyder sacked the Bear QB five times, while Tyler Bayles added one sack. Snyder is up to 21 sacks on the year now, which is tied for 11th in the nation.

Without a doubt the team is excited to be heading back to the championship game after nine seasons. “This is what you work for all year long,” Coach Christensen explained.

“This has been in the works for a full year now ever since the Juab loss. It means everything, but the job’s not done.” He is of course referring to the one final task at hand – a task that will not be easy.

The Broncos will face the Beaver Beavers in a rematch of the teams’ tough defensive battle in Beaver October 8. San Juan was victorious in that matchup 8-0, snapping a 34-game Beaver win streak.

Beaver showed some of their usual moxie in their semifinal matchup this past Saturday, rallying to overcome a 14-7 halftime deficit to beat the then-undefeated South Summit Wildcats 21-14.

Beaver head coach Jon Marshall believes his team’s loss on October 8 – their only blemish this season – gives them the edge against the Broncos this time.

“San Juan is really good,” Marshall told the Deseret News after his team’s win over South Summit. “They’re the favorite – well-deserved.

“They beat us and outplayed us the first game, and we’re going to have to look at film and see what kind of adjustments we need to make.”

One thing’s for sure: The state championship game is going to be a heck of a battle this Saturday, November 13 at Weber State between the two 2A powerhouses.

It’s the rematch everybody in the state (excepting the folks from South Summit) have been eagerly anticipating for over a month.

The kick is set for 2 p.m. KSL owns the rights to the video streaming, but if you want to hear the broadcast team that’s been following the Broncos all season long, tune in to Redrock 92.7 FM starting with the pregame at 1:30.

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