San Juan football takes its lumps in game one

The San Juan High School football team knew they were in for a stout challenge long before they got off the bus this past Friday, September 13 at Desert Hills High School in St. George, UT.

Though they were up for the test to begin the 2021-22 season, it didn’t take long to see that they truly had their hands full against the squad that was ranked #5 in the state in 4A football.

Though Cooper Black returned the opening kickoff 68 yards to set San Juan up at the Desert Hills 30-yard line, the Broncos couldn’t move the ball and their opening drive was in danger of stalling.

They got a break when a Desert Hills defender committed a pass interference penalty, resulting in a first down for the Broncos.

San Juan used it to their advantage, and capped a nice opening drive with a one-yard scamper into the end zone by senior quarterback Jace Palmer to open the scoring. He then connected with Landon Black for a two-point conversion and the Broncos led 8-0.

The Broncos forced Desert Hills to punt on their first possession, but that’s when it started to go awry for San Juan.

Senior running back Jensen Grover ran for eight yards on first down, but lost the ball as he was hit, resulting in a fumble – the first of six turnovers on the night for the Broncos.

Starting from the San Juan 42, Desert Hills promptly drove the ball to the Bronco five, and the ball started to bounce their way.

A nice hit by a Bronco defender forced a fumble from Thunder quarterback Noah Fuailetolo near the goal line, but the ball bounced into the endzone right into the hands of Desert Hills receiver Tayven Mortensen for a touchdown.

On the ensuing possession, San Juan started deep in their own territory and was driving, but a Palmer pass was intercepted at midfield. Desert Hills punched in their second touchdown of the game just six plays later to take a 12-8 lead.

San Juan was driving again on their third possession, but turned the ball over on downs near the Thunder 20 early in the second quarter.

San Juan halted the ensuing Desert Hills drive, but Ladd Ivins couldn’t handle the punt that resulted, and the Thunder recovered the loose ball at the Bronco 23.

They made quick work of the error, scoring on a pass just a couple plays later to increase their lead, 18-8.

San Juan was forced to punt on their next possession, and that opened to door for Fuailetolo to showcase his throwing ability. He connected with receiver Lincoln Holmes for an 80-yard touchdown right over the middle of the field.

It was the Thunder’s fourth straight touchdown in answer to the Broncos’ opening strike and made the score 25-8 with 4:57 remaining in the first half.

San Juan dug deep and put together a nice 80-yard scoring drive that took just 1:45, culminating in a 32-yard pass from Palmer to Ladd Ivins.

Ivins caught the ball at the eight and took a big hit at the goal line, but stayed inside the pylon for the score.

San Juan was back in it, trailing 25-14. But the Desert Hills offense continued to overwhelm the Bronco defense, driving 88 yards on their next possession to punch in another TD and increase their lead to 32-14.

Desert Hills held San Juan at arm’s length in a low-scoring second half to close out a 45-20 win. The Broncos added one final score with 5:52 left in the game when Palmer connected with Cooper Black on an eight-yard pass.

Turnovers were the Broncos’ Achilles’ heel, specifically the three straight giveaways in the first quarter that killed their early momentum. But Desert Hills was good, particularly junior quarterback Noah Fuailetolo. He threw for 158 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 64 yards and another TD.

Other than the turnovers, San Juan was good too. Palmer passed for 210 yards and two TDs along with a rushing TD. Cooper Black had 107 yards receiving with a TD, and Ladd Ivins had 54 yards with a TD. Landon Black ran for 50 yards.

San Juan head coach Barkley Christensen said his team’s main struggles were “little assignment issues” that are to be expected in the first game of the season.

“If we play a perfect game, we might have been right there,” he reasoned. “A lot of 2A teams you just don’t have those issues and people don’t think twice about it. But when you’re playing a 4A team and they execute, those things turn into points.”

“Our linemen that first drive held their own against some big kids,” he continued. “When you have a 280-pound linemen leaning on you all the time, that’s a whole different type of tired that I don’t think we’ve ever felt.

“We’re going to look back and thank Desert Hills at the end of the season because iron sharpens iron,” he continued. “They have already made us a better team [by exposing some weaknesses].”

The Broncos will have an opportunity to bounce back and are looking for their first win of the season against another tough opponent this Friday when they return home to face the Summit Academy Bears.

Expect some adjustments from San Juan to better defend the passing attack of a spread offense, which gave them trouble at Desert Hills.

The Broncos kick it off against the Bears this Friday, August 20 at 7 p.m. and you can catch all the action live on Redrock 92 Radio with streaming video at PictureItPalmer.com.

San Juan Record

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