Broncos bounce back for first gridiron win of season with a 48-29 win over Summit Academy
Following a tough season-opening loss in St. George on August 13, the San Juan High School football team returned to Blanding for their first home game of the year this past Friday, August 20.
The stands were packed with Bronco fans eager to see a squad that hopes to challenge for a 2021 state championship.
Their opponent, Summit Academy, was in town for a cross-region showdown between two of the best teams in Utah 2A football. Last season, the Bears beat the Broncos in Bluffdale 49-28.
The teams traded scoreless possessions for the first half of the opening quarter before San Juan finally broke through for the first score of the night.
Starting from their own 46, the Broncos put together a strong drive that included a beautiful diving catch by Ladd Ivins for a 21-yard gain into Bear territory.
A couple of plays later, San Juan quarterback Jace Palmer hit Ivins again, this time in the left flat, where Ivins juked his defender and streaked into the end zone with the help of some good downfield blocking from Cooper Black for a 22-yard touchdown.
A two-point try failed, and the Broncos had to settle for a 6-0 lead, which would be short-lived. Summit Academy opened their next possession with a short running play.
On second down, quarterback Devin Watson hit Koa Sylvester in stride and he went the distance untouched for a 67-yard strike as the Bears immediately answered San Juan.
Summit Academy kicker Kyson Andolsek smoothly added the extra point and the Bears had their first lead 7-6.
San Juan began the ensuing possession with a pretty 37-yard pass from Palmer to Black, who battled his defenders downfield and went up to win a jump ball at the Bear 40 yard line.
Palmer connected with Ivins again to move the chains to the Summit Academy 28, and that’s where the Broncos executed one of their most beautiful plays of the game.
Play action went to the left, and the San Juan line gave Palmer time to set his legs. He threw back to the right end zone pylon where Jerzy Nieves had beaten his man and caught the pass in stride for the score.
This time Palmer connected with Landon Black on the two-point conversion, and the Broncos retook the lead 14-7 with 2:18 left in the first quarter.
Summit Academy was not to be outdone. They put together a methodical 62-yard drive that stretched into the second quarter.
On third and 11 from the San Juan 38, Watson hit Chance Arbon, the talented Grand County transfer, for a 36-yard strike to set up a score. A couple plays later, they did just that on a one-yard pass from Watson to Sylvester.
This time, the PAT was blocked, and the Broncos held a 14-13 lead. However, on the kickoff, San Juan fumbled and the Bears recovered at the 11.
The San Juan defense stood strong with their backs to their own end zone, not allowing the Bears to move the ball.
On fourth down, Summit Academy elected to try a 23-yard field goal, and the very capable Andolsek nailed it with no issue to give the Bears the lead 16-14.
That’s where the score remained until midway through the third quarter, when Summit Academy committed their first mistake of the game.
They lined up to punt, but the snap bounced to Andolsek. He scooped it, but was unable to punt as Bronco Magnum Nielson forced him down at the Bear 24.
San Juan took advantage of the error when Jace Palmer snuck into the end zone from the one to give the Broncos the lead, 22-16, following a two-point strike from Palmer to Ivins.
The Summit Academy error would prove to be the deciding moment of the game as San Juan never again relinquished the lead.
The San Juan defense became very stingy, forcing a turnover on downs at the Bronco 44. Palmer brought the San Juan crowd to their feet again when he hit Cooper Black in the middle of the field with a 56-yard touchdown pass.
The Broncos added another touchdown early the fourth quarter when Jensen Grover scampered in from five yards out. Ivins deftly added the extra point to make the score 35-16.
The Bears finally answered in 55 seconds on a nice 37-yard pass from Watson to Arbon to break San Juan’s 21-point scoring streak.
The Broncos bounced back to tighten their grip on the game with back-to-back scores. A 75-yard Jensen Grover run set up a two-yard touchdown run by Landon Black.
Minutes later, Jerzy Nieves intercepted a Watson pass in the end zone, San Juan’s first takeaway of the year.
On the ensuing Bronco possession, Palmer connected on back-to-back passes. Then Palmer hit Ivins in the flat and the Bronco senior juked his defender and beat everyone down the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown.
Ivins kicked the extra point to increase the San Juan lead to 48-23.
Summit Academy had a nice scoring drive to close out the game, but the Broncos snagged the ensuing onside kick to close out a 48-29 win.
Quarterback Jace Palmer was instrumental in the win. Rebounding from his four-interception effort at Desert Hills, the Bronco senior passed for 326 yards and four touchdowns.
He spread the ball between Ivins (146 yards receiving, two TDs) and Black (141 yards, one TD). Nieves had a receiving TD and ended the night with 32 yards.
Three Broncos scored rushing touchdowns. Jensen Grover rushed 14 times for 118 yards, Palmer had seven carries for 35 yards, and Landon Black had 15 yards on five carries.
Following the game, Bronco Head Coach Barkley Christensen credited “two-platooning” to turn the tide.
“We took Bronson [Snyder] and Chance Hoggard, two of our best defensive linemen, off of offense and it paid off,” he explained.
“I felt we were the more conditioned team. Watson is one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever played, but we kept our guys fresh and were able to pressure him.”
With the win, the Broncos improve to 1-1. They welcome the Bayfield, CO Wolverines to Blanding on Friday.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Catch all the action live on Redrock 92 and PictureItPalmer.com.