Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SANDY — Tyler Hughes hopes his football players learn more than Xs and Os while participating in the Snow College football program.
One of the things he hopes they take with them is that when life gets tough, they need to work harder, be tougher and stick together.
The Badgers illustrated that lesson with their 36-9 victory over Eastern Arizona in the Top of the Mountains Bowl at Rio Tinto Stadium Saturday afternoon.
"It was a statement game," said Breon Allen, a freshman who was named the offensive MVP of the game for Snow College. "They embarrassed us. We were ranked No. 5 in the nation and (losing to Eastern Arizona in October) ended our hopes of a national championship. So this was a statement game for our defense, a little bit of revenge, but all-in-all we just wanted to win."
In the first meeting between the two teams, both 8-3 before Saturday's showdown, Snow receiver Ronrei Lloyd and Eastern Arizona cornerback Mohammed Seisay got into an argument that escalated into pushing and the two fell to the ground. Officials ejected the boys and then the NJCAA suspended additional members of both teams in the subsequent two games.
For the Snow defense, it was a tremendous blow, one that required the kind of grit and determination coach Hughes likes to talk about developing.
"We were 7-0 and kind of full of ourselves," said Manti alum Clayton Christensen, who grabbed an interception in the game in which turnovers made the difference in the outcome. "We got humbled in a hurry. We had a lot of suspensions after that game, and we had a lot of trials to go through. Trials have a way of either making you or breaking you, and we chose to let it help us out."
What made the suspensions more difficult was the fact that Snow lost the next two games and fell to No. 16 in the rankings. But they finished the regular season with a win and got a second chance to prove they can play with Eastern Arizona.
"I'm going to be honest," said Allen, who finished with 141 yards and three touchdowns in the game. "When we played them the first time, compared to everyone else we played, that was the fastest (team) we'd seen. They were huge, man! Huge! Last game we gave up 400 yards of offense. We couldn't stop them. They play so big, man. They play with a chip on their shoulder."
Allen heaped praise on the defense, which made itself a factor from the opening drive. The Badgers forced three fumbles and benefited from Christensen's interception.
Freshman Matt Tanuvasa (Hawaii) led the defense with seven and a half tackles, while sophomore John Mahe, a Copper Hills alum, added six tackles.
"This was our opportunity to play on a big stage, and we felt like we showed up," said Mahe. "It's a revenge game; they got us good last time. … But we were able to shut them down today and do our thing, which is play hard-nosed football."
Snow relied on Grantsville graduate Craig Harrison at quarterback and he went 7 of 12 for 58 yards and a touchdown. His job was made significantly easier by Allen's ability to stay on his feet despite the best efforts of the Gila Monster defense.
In one run, he ran almost to the western sideline, only to double back, shaking off tacklers as he ran back to the east sideline and finally turning up field for a 19-yard run into the end zone.
"That was God-given instinct," Allen said smiling. "I just tried to do what I could, and I just went off of instinct and tried to keep my feet moving and I got in the end zone somehow."
Hughes praised his defense for working so hard in the game.
"They didn't want to give up a yard, and they were also very thoughtful about forcing turnovers," he said. "(The adversity) brought the whole team together. We went through kind of a rough spell there, but they were pretty unified coming into this one."
He told them two things — no one was going to feel sorry for them and they were not going to make excuses about any loss.
"We played real hard during that time, and lost some close games, but they stuck together and that was the key," Hughes said.
Mahe said the win was gratifying for the Badgers.
"It felt so good," he said. "No question, the tough times paid off. This is a great team and we were able to come out on top."
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