San Juan football outlasts Grand County in wild rivalry matchup

It was a matchup between two football teams headed in opposite directions when the San Juan Broncos traveled to Moab on Friday, September 25 to meet the rival Grand County Red Devils.

San Juan was 4-2 on the year looking for back-to-back wins, and Grand came into the contest 0-6 looking for an upset and their first win of the year.

From the start it looked like the Broncos would run away with the game. They won the opening toss, elected to receive the ball, and took just six plays to draw first blood on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Jace Palmer to Ladd Ivins.

San Juan then forced a Grand punt following a quick three-and-out, and promptly drove the ball down the field for another TD, this time a one-yard run by Palmer. The Broncos led 14-0 7:42 into the game.

But Grand clawed their way back to get some offensive production in their second possession. They held the ball for the remainder of the opening quarter, steadily driving downfield to get themselves in scoring position as the period came to a close.

The Red Devils were able to punch in their first score of the night on an eight-yard pass from Ryelan Jones to Chance Arbon 39 seconds into the second quarter. The PAT failed, but Grand had made a statement that they weren’t going away easily.

San Juan answered almost immediately when Palmer hit Ivins on a 51-yard pass to the Grand 12 yard line setting up a touchdown run from Jensen Grover to complete a two-play, 63-yard scoring drive that made the score 21-6.

That’s when the game got a little crazy. San Juan kicked off to Grand, but kicked it short and stripped the ball from the Red Devil returner to retake possession near midfield.

The Broncos drove the ball deep into Grand territory and were on the verge of taking a three-score lead. But a Palmer pass from the five yard line was deflected and intercepted by Arbon on the one yard line.

However, on the very next play the Red Devils errantly snapped the ball into their own end zone and Tyler Bayles jumped on it for a San Juan defensive touchdown.

Grand took just 40 seconds to answer when they scored on an impressive 40-yard run by Jones to make the score 27-14 with 6:47 left in the half.

Grand was determined to stay in the game, but San Juan was equally determined to not allow them. On their next possession the Broncos took 3:44 to march the ball down the field and punch in a one-yard touchdown run by Ivins.

San Juan added another TD with just five seconds left in the half to stretch their lead to 42-14, and that was all they would need.

Though Grand scored less than a minute into the second half on a 90-yard pass from Jones to Chasee Croasmun, the tone had been set and the Broncos were able to keep steady distance on the Red Devils down the stretch.

San Juan scored to answer Grand again when Palmer connected with Ivins for the pair’s third passing touchdown of the night, a 29-yarder with 6:56 left in the third quarter.

The Broncos established a running clock when they added the final score of the night, a 56-yard pass from Palmer to Jerzy Nieves 5:34 into the fourth quarter to make the score 56-20.

It was a wild affair and fun to watch, but a bit sloppy at times for both teams. Though the Broncos will take the win, head coach Barkley Christensen said after the game that he and the players know they have some things to work on headed into the final three games of the regular season.

In particular, San Juan struggled in the penalty department, committing 80 yards of infractions. They also turned the ball over at a key moment with the interception in the Grand red zone.

But they’re doing many things right also. The Palmer-Ivins combo was lethal in Moab. The two accounted for 261 yards passing and three touchdowns. Christensen said he’s impressed that someone different is stepping up to take the lead each game.

Palmer ended up passing for 398 yards on the night and four TDs. The Bronco running game wasn’t as impressive yardage-wise, but scoring production was solid. They ran the ball for just 171 yards, but scored three rushing touchdowns.

One thing Christensen said his team will work on in practice this week is defensive coverage – stopping skilled athletes. San Juan allowed several big plays that resulted in touchdowns for Grand.

The Broncos didn’t overlook Grand despite the Red Devils’ winless record, and they surely won’t overlook their opponent this week.

San Juan heads to Richfield to take on the 6-1 and #5-ranked Wildcats. Despite their win this past Friday, the Broncos dropped to tenth in the most recent RPI standings.

The kickoff is set for 7 p.m. this Friday, October 2 in Richfield and you can catch all the action live on Redrock 92.7 FM and streaming at redrock92.com. The pregame starts at 6:30.

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