With a largely untested line on both sides of the ball, and with a target on thier backs from being picked number one in the newly realigned 3A football classification in many preseason polls, the Morgan Trojans lined up against traditionally tough Delta at Trojan Stadium Friday night. Behind a new no-huddle offensive approach and a balanced rushing attack, the Trojans overpowered the Rabbits 35-0.
At the outset, it looked like Morgan was going to dominate early. The Trojans returned the opening kickoff for what appeared to be a touchdown just a few seconds into the game. However, the first play of the season brought out the first yellow hankie of the season, nullifying the score. The Trojans took over all the way back at their own 15. Lightning struck again just moments later, when Morgan wideout Bobby Cluff grabbed a Ben Saunders pass across the middle and streaked 72 yards for the first official touchdown of the season just 53 seconds into the game.
The Trojans had been concerned about their largely untested group of linemen. Even going into the game, Coach Kovi Christiansen and his staff were unsure of who their top guys were. "Our line did OK for the first game," he said after the game. "We did end up using 9-10 linemen tonight." And, at least early on, the lack of cohesion showed, particularly on the defensive side. The undersized Rabbits didn't let the quick-strike score bother them, and began moving the ball fairly well on their initial drive. Going off the left side of the line time and again, the Rabbits' inverted wishbone attack picked up a couple of first downs, and the brawl appeared to be on.
However, five plays into the drive, junior quarterback Bracken Lovell fumbled a snap, and the Trojans quickly pounced on the ball. With a short field to work with, Morgan found paydirt just moments later on a 20-yard punishing TD run by senior Matt Murdock, who also led the team with 5 solo tackles. "Matt's a gamer," said Christiansen. "We ask a lot of him and of many of our players."
In a two-score hole, Delta did themselves no favors on their next two drives. On the first, after gaining one first-down, the Rabbits were forced to punt 4 plays later. After Morgan fumbled on their first play from scrimmage, Delta looked to be in business, recovering at the Morgan 33. However, after again picking up that initial first-down, The Rabbits went backwards on four straight plays, culminating with a 10 yard loss on a sack on 4th-and-25.
The teams traded futile drives until the last minute of the first half, when Delta punted to Morgan, pinning them at their own 19 with 54.6 seconds left in the first half. An illegal substitution penalty made the field even longer for the Trojans, but they got the drive off to a good start with a 28 yard pass reception by Cluff which moved the ball near midfield. With 22 seconds left in the half, quarterback Ben Saunders dropped back and calmly hit Murdock with a pass in the right flat, and the wideout broke two tackes en route to a 53 yard touchdown completion. Parker Lewis, who was a perfect 5-5 on PATs on the evening, hit an extra point to make the score 21-0 at halftime.
Things got no easier for the Rabbits, who received the second half kickoff. Lewis' kickoff looked to be heading straight into the end zone for a touchback, and the Delta returner stepped aside to allow it to do so. However, much like a baseball rolling up the line, refusing to go foul, this kickoff took an odd bounce and spin, and stopped rolling at the one-foot line. Faced with no other choice, the returner picked up the ball and tried to advance it, but was swarmed under at about the 5 yard line.
Three largely fruitless plays later, Delta was forced to punt. The punt team, which had delivered all night with long kicks and no returns, didn't achieve their desired result on this occasion, with a mere 19-yard effort. Morgan took over at the 32 looking to add to their lead. The Rabbits, however, had other ideas and held the Trojans on downs, including a sack of their own on 4th-and-3.
Inspired by their defensive stand, Delta began marching the ball downfield with a mixture of traps and dives. However, by this time a light rain had begun to fall in Morgan, and the ball seemed to get a little slippery. After moving the ball into Trojan territory, Kale Leavitt fumbled the ball after a tough run, and Morgan's Murdock recovered the ball.
Two plays later, Morgan fumbled the ball right back. Once again, the Rabbits were unable to capitalize on the good field position, and punted the ball back to Morgan. After a long run by Kade Carrigan and a nice pass reception by Murdock, Morgan was knocking on the door once again. Delta's defense rose to the occasion, and held Morgan to what appeared to be a field-goal try on 4th-and-goal at the 8 yard line. However, the fake was on and back up quarterback Tyler Kelsey stood up and fired a pass to a wide open Murdock, which brought the score to 28-0 after the PAT and the competetive phase of the game was largely over. Morgan tacked on a late 14 yard touchdown run by Jake Peterson to make the final tally 35-0.
"Overall, we're pretty pleased," remarked Christiansen after the game. "We had a little help from a penalty or two and a fumble or two. There are some things we'll need to shore up and work on." The coach was also quick to credit his opponent for a game effort: "I give Delta a lot of credit. They've got tough kids and we knew they'd keep playing." However, Morgan's line-by-platoon approach was successful on this night, as Morgan dominated the stats sheet, outgaining Delta in total yards 418-253, including 266 yards on the ground.
Morgan next faces historic rival South Summit in Kamas on Friday, August 30 while Delta will visit Millard.
Chris is a graduate of the University of Utah and Santa Clara Law School, is a father of four, an avid fly-fisherman, and announcer of many Morgan High School sports events. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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