San Juan Broncos give top 3A Utah football team a solid run for their money in quarterfinal matchup on the road

When the San Juan Broncos cruised into Nephi on Friday afternoon, October 30, they were looking to advance to the state semifinals for the first time in four seasons and do it by upsetting the number one team in the state.

From the opening kickoff it was clear the Broncos had their hands full with the host Juab Wasps, but it was also clear that San Juan was up to the challenge and they were not going to back down.

San Juan took the opening kickoff as they have all season, and though they moved the chains on a nice run by Jensen Grover they were forced to punt from midfield when the drive stalled three downs later.

Coming into the quarterfinal matchup, Juab had six players with more than 100 yards rushing on the season. The Broncos’ main challenge was going to be shutting down the constant rotation of Wasp running backs.

Juab steadily marched the ball down the field on their first possession using the run exclusively. But San Juan made a stand at their own 25 yard line to stop the Wasp drive and force a 43-yard field goal attempt.

As it turns out, Juab just happens to have the second-best field goal kicker in the state in Ryker Richards. The sophomore had already hit ten field goals on the season, and he made the 43-yarder look easy, giving the Wasps a 3-0 lead 8:22 into the game.

It was an early victory for the San Juan defense. Following the field goal the Broncos thought they had taken the lead with the game’s first touchdown when Jace Palmer connected with Cooper Black on a pass into the left flats.

Black deftly weaved his way through the Juab defense and outran everybody 84 yards to the house. Sadly, the play was called back on a holding penalty.

When they were unable to move the chains, San Juan rolled the dice on fourth and short from their own 27. Unfortunately Palmer was unable to carry the ball to the first down marker and the Wasps took over deep in Bronco territory.

Juab promptly drove into the Bronco red zone and punched in the first touchdown of the game on a Bodee Blackett sweep from six yards out. Richards added the extra point and suddenly the Wasps had a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

San Juan’s next possession was uneventful and they were forced to punt from their own end zone, again giving Juab excellent field position.

The Wasps moved the chains to the San Juan 20 and were poised to take a commanding lead with just over nine minutes left in the half.

But when Juab quarterback Alex Jackson threw into the end zone, Bronco defender Ladd Ivins won his battle against Bodee Blackett to grab an interception and give San Juan a much-needed defensive stop.

The Broncos then built on that momentum; Palmer hit Jerzy Nieves with a nice 31-yard pass to move San Juan into Juab territory for the first time in the game.

San Juan set themselves up to score when Palmer hit Bronson Snyder for some hard-earned yardage over the middle down to the Wasp seven yard line.

Then Palmer sent the ball high in the air into the corner of the end zone and Ivins beat his defender to pull down his tenth touchdown catch of the season.

So, instead of being down 17-0, the Broncos had clawed themselves back into the game and trailed just 10-7 with 5:19 left in the first half.

Juab took the ensuing kickoff and drove down to the San Juan ten yard line before the Broncos were able to put together another key defensive stop, forcing a fourth down and another field goal attempt.

Richards was perfect again, this time from 29 yards, to give the Wasps a 13-7 lead headed into halftime.

Before it actually happened, you’d have been hard-pressed to find anybody who expected the San Juan Broncos to be within six points of the #1 Juab Wasps at halftime in the state quarterfinals on the Juab High School football field.

Juab had the benefit of receiving the ball to start the second half, but again the San Juan defense was equal to the task, holding the Wasps to a three-and-out near midfield.

So the hometown squad, filled to the brim with seniors, had to punt the ball to the upstart Broncos, made up largely of juniors, and San Juan had an opportunity to take their first lead of the game if they could put together a solid drive.

San Juan was able to move the chains once, but when they faced a fourth down near midfield, a Jace Palmer punt hit a Bronco lineman. The deflection gave Juab the ball on the San Juan side of the field, and the Broncos would have to rely on their defense for a key stop yet again.

Again that defense was stout, halting the Wasp drive at the 25 yard line. Ryker Richards lined up for another 43-yard field goal attempt, but this time he missed and the Broncos were still in business, taking over from their own 20.

The San Juan offense was unable to move the ball though, and they were forced to punt it back to Juab, who took over with 3:17 remaining in the third quarter.

The Wasps took almost all of that time to drive the ball to the Bronco 45 where Alex Jackson hit Teagen Christensen on a wheel route for a touchdown that made the score 20-7.

Cooper Black thought he’d scored again on the ensuing kickoff return when he took a handoff from Ladd Ivins and ran the ball 85 yards, leaving the Juab kicking team in the dust. But for the second time in the game it was called back on a holding penalty.

Despite the tough call, the Broncos were driving two minutes into the fourth quarter when Palmer hit Ivins with a pass that would have taken the ball inside the Wasp 35. But Ivins fumbled when he was hit and the Juab defense got a big stop with 9:53 to go in the game.

The Wasps drove into San Juan territory looking to close out the game, but when an Alex Jackson pass deflected into the air, a waiting Ivins was there to pull down his second interception of the night, putting the Broncos back in business with 7:58 to go.

They took the ball deep into Juab territory and took several shots into the end zone but were never able to connect, turning the ball over to the Wasps with 3:03 remaining.

From that point, Juab rotated their many running backs, keeping the ball on the ground to drain the clock and close out a 20-7 state quarterfinal win over the Broncos.

Though it was a tough loss for San Juan, the Broncos can hold their heads high. They gave the number one team in the state all they could handle, hanging with them for the entire game.

Reflecting on the game, San Juan Head Coach Barkley Christensen said, “Our kids are warriors. They played their hearts out.

“It not only shocked people around 3A football, but even people in our community how they played,” he explained. “I think they’re going to make some noise next season.”

Though they didn’t pull off the upset, the Broncos have already made some noise. They were one of Juab’s toughest opponents all season long and held the Wasps to their fewest offensive yards since their loss to 5A Salem Hills back on August 28.

The San Juan defense also held Juab to their fewest points all season, save the Salem Hills loss. The Wasps came into the game averaging nearly 38 points per game, and the Broncos allowed just 20.

San Juan’s eight wins this season match their output in 2019 which is tied for their most since 2016. They end the year 8-4 overall and 4-1 in Region 12.

They scored 468 points this season, the most in 3A football and an average of 39 per game. They allowed the sixth-fewest points at 265.

The Broncos made some noise individually this year also (though some of these stats may change as the state tournament concludes, they were accurate as of November 2).

Ladd Ivins’s interceptions in the quarterfinals were his seventh and eighth of the year which ties him for the most in the state with Milford’s Heston Sullivan. His 1,315 receiving yards are second-best in the state.

Jace Palmer’s 2,859 passing yards in 2020 are third-most; his 31 passing touchdowns are tied for fifth. Cooper Black’s 14 touchdown catches are tied for sixth-most in the state.

Jensen Grover’s 115 tackles are eighth-best, Weston Laws’s 49 extra points are ninth, and Grover’s 1,230 rushing yards are tenth.

Looking ahead to next season, Coach Christensen said he is excited that there will be some depth on the roster, something he hasn’t yet enjoyed during his coaching career.

He said the coaches will look to “two-platoon better and get guys some rest” during games. “Everybody’s pretty fired up to win a state championship next season,” he added.

The vast majority of the Broncos will return next year. Only four seniors, Jaden Baker, Easton Bethea, Reo Fox, and Weston Laws, will graduate.

It’s a squad that is poised and easily capable of building on an excellent 2020 and advancing to the next level in 2021.

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