MANTI — Manti coach Cole Meacham knew the Richfield Wildcats would be a tough team to beat.
“They’re good and loaded with confidence,” he said before Friday's kickoff. “We’ll need to control their running game and force them to throw the ball."
That strategy almost came back to haunt the Templars as Richfield quarterback Spencer Henderson completed 8 of 18 passes for 133 yards. In the end, though, the Templars capitalized on turnovers and made enough plays to post a big 36-27 victory over the previously unbeaten Wildcats.
The Manti defense came up big in front of the school's homecoming fans. Manti's special teams blocked a Richfield punt that gave the Templars the ball on the 12, resulting in a score. Richfield picked up a first-and-goal on the Manti 2, but the defense took control of the line of scrimmage to stop the Wildcats on the 1.
Manti took an early 14-0 lead on a pair of 8-yard touchdown runs by Kamren Fowles, but the Wildcats responded with a 9-yard TD run by Brody Ellis and a 27-yard scoring pass from Henderson to Brenan Thomas, who made a diving catch in the end zone.
The Wildcats had the ball with time running out in the first half when Manti’s Jared Schiess stripped the ball and Wesley Wright scooped it up and ran to the Richfield 9 before being brought down from behind. Quarterback Connor Aste punched it in from the 5 to give Manti a 20-14 lead at the half.
The Templars opened the second half of play with another takeaway. Wright punched the ball loose and Trevor Alder pounced on it. Manti scored on a 1-yard run by Schiess and Aste hooked up with Alder for the two-point conversion.
Things looked bleak for the Wildcats, but Riley Cunningham fielded the kickoff and streaked down the left sideline for a 90-yard touchdown return. Manti responded with another 8-yard TD run by Fowles.
Richfield then went on a 77-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 1-yard run by Ryder Rippstein. It then executed a successful onside kick. With 3 1/2 minutes left in the game the Wildcats had the ball on the Manti 41. A pair of scrambles by Henderson and a Templar penalty had Richfield deep in Manti territory when the Manti defense stepped up again. Tyler Albee picked off a pass and the Templars were able to run out the clock.
Manti finished the game with 231 yards on 43 carries. Fowles second effort running earned him a game-high 94 yards; Aste carried for 61; and Brad Sego rushed for 28.
Ellis led the Wildcats with 76 of their 146 yards. Henderson carried for 44 yards. Thomas made some great catches, pulling in five passes for 112 yards and a TD. Ellis caught a pair for 21 yards.
The win by Manti sets up a showdown game next week with Juab. Both the Templars and the Wasps are undefeated in region play.
Bob is the Executive Director of Explore the Outdoors, a non-profit outdoor education corporation. Visit their website at http://outdoored.us.