CEDAR CITY — With a beastly offensive line and a thunder and lightning backfield, Manti might just have the best running game in the state. It will get a chance to prove it in the 3A state championship next week.
The Templars rushed for 327 yards and bulled their way past Morgan 36-28 Saturday night at SUU's Eccles Coliseum. The victory advances Manti into the 3A title game next Saturday, 11 a.m., at Weber State's Stewart Stadium.
“We have some great running backs, so that puts pressure on us to make good blocks,” Manti offensive lineman Dane Howe said. “But we know if we do, those guys are going to make big plays.”
Kamren Fowles led the charge with 192 yards on 27 carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns along the way.
“It does make me nervous when the coach puts it all on our shoulders, especially against such a good, physical team like Morgan,” Fowles said. “But we have such a great offensive line. Most of the time, we have some good room to run.”
Both teams were content to play smashmouth football, with the clock cruising along, interrupted occasionally by a touchdown. Jared Schiess had three of them, including the go-ahead score from four yards out with under two minutes to go.
“Our offensive line just works their tail off,” Schiess said. “Early on, when we jumped out on them, I felt pretty good, but they kept fighting and they're a good team. I knew it wouldn't be easy.”
The key moments in Manti's win came in the game's final six minutes. With the game tied at 28-28, the Templars were forced to punt to the Trojans. But the Manti defense held strong and forced a three-and-out. Manti took over at its own 29-yard line with 5:45 to play.
Over the next three minutes, the speedy but diminutive Fowles used his vision to set up runs of 16 and 23 yards. Brad Sego also carried a couple of times and the Templars slowly moved the ball into the red zone.
With under three minutes to go, Sego took a sweep and was bounced down after a 2-yard gain, leaving Manti with fourth-and-one at the 9-yard line.
“We could have kicked, and our kicker has done a nice job for us, but we felt like we needed to put it on our line and out-muscle them,” said Manti head coach Cole Meacham. “We just felt like we needed to go for it.”
The decision paid off as Fowles rushed through a pair of arm tackles to give the Templars a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. On the next play, Schiess blasted it in to break the tie. Schiess also ran in the two-point conversion and with 1:26 left, Manti had an eight-point lead.
Two plays later, senior defensive back Tyler Albee intercepted a Morgan pass and the Templars were on their way to the state championship.
Manti only attempted six passes in the game, and none on the final nine-play, 71-yard drive.
“There have been times this year when we just put it on our running game and let them go get the win,” Meacham said. “This was one of those times.”
Manti, 9-2, lost to Judge Memorial, the Templars' championship opponent, by 29 less than a month ago.
Morgan was a game opponent in the semifinals. The Trojans never did lead in the game but after falling down 14-0 early. They fought back to make it 14-13 after touchdowns by Kade Carrigan and Bridger Streadbeck, and that was the score at halftime.
Morgan pulled ahead on Fowles' first touchdown midway through the third quarter to make it 20-13, but Morgan answered with a 65-yard touchdown run by Ben Holland just three plays later to tie it at 20-20,
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Fowles scored again with about 3 minutes to go in the third on a seven-yard run to make it 28-20.
The Trojans again answered, chewing up more than five minutes of clock time. Carrigan's one-yarder and a two-point conversion by Carrigan tied it at 28-28 with 9:55 left in the game.
After trading punts, the Templars were able to take the lead for good on the late drive and score by Schiess.
Holland led Morgan with 105 rushing yards and also added 23 receiving yards, but the Trojans' season ends with an 8-3 record.