High school football: Judge Memorial defeats Manti 36-22 in back-and-forth 3A championship
But this win was anything but easy. After a scoreless first quarter, Manti’s Kamren Fowles scored two second-quarter touchdowns — the second one coming with just five seconds left before halftime — to stake the Templars to a 14-7 lead at intermission.
“At the half, we really just sat down and talked about what we needed to do to win this game, and if we really wanted to win this game,” Garcia said. “So we came out with all we could and we won the game. We wanted it more, it seemed like.”
However, after third-quarter touchdowns by Garcia and Mark Barnett gave the Bulldogs a short-lived 20-14 lead, Manti’s Brad Sego took the ensuing kickoff following Barnett’s touchdown and churned 87 yards for a touchdown to put the Templars back on top, 22-20, thanks to a subsequent two-point conversion pass from T.J. Pogroszewski to Seth Jenkins.
That would be Manti’s last hurrah, though, as the Bulldogs' defense completely stifled the Templars in the second half, holding them to just 16 net yards of total offense. And Mark Barnett came up with a key defensive play midway through the fourth quarter that helped Judge seal the deal.
With the Bulldogs leading 28-22 following Kearns’ 3-yard touchdown run and Garcia’s two-point conversion with 10:06 remaining in the game, Manti was pinned deep in its own territory when it tried a halfback pass play.
Barnett picked off the wobbly aerial attempt and returned it to the Templars’ 2-yard line. Garcia plowed into the end zone on the next play, and Elliss threw a two-point conversion pass to Pelly to give Judge an insurmountable 36-22 lead with 5:19 left to play, a margin that stood up the rest of the way.
Elliss, whose rushing bursts continually kept Judge drives alive and who also had a team-leading eight tackles on defense, was asked what he was feeling after the game.
“Relief,” he said. “We believed that we could do it, and we knew that we should have done it, and now to have actually done it, it’s the best feeling ever. I haven’t ever felt like this before, it’s awesome.
“Proud, we’re proud. I just can’t believe first off that it’s been 30 years (since Judge won a state title). I didn’t even know that and now that we did it, it’s unbelievable. It feels so good, it’s just warming my heart like Christmas.
“You could say we’re a second-half team. We came out in that second half and really dominated them,” said Elliss, who pointed out that coach Cordova’s halftime speech help put the Bulldogs in an angry, title-hungry mood for the second half. “He said we can leave this field No. 1 or we can leave this field No. 2, and it was our choice. And we chose to be No. 1. We came out, we worked harder than we had (in the first half), and I’m just thankful.”
The title hopes for Manti (10-3), which had won the previous two 2A state championships before stepping up to the 3A ranks this season, took a serious hit when Fowles suffered a concussion returning a kickoff early in the second half. The Templars’ leading ground gainer, with nearly 1,500 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns this season, did not return.
“He hit me helmet to helmet and it gave me a it rung me,” he said of the play that sidelined him for the remainder of the final game of his high school career. “It was tough. I’ve been playing with those guys since sixth grade; we’re best friends and when you get taken out and you can’t play, it tears you apart. I don’t know, I could’ve played but they didn’t wanna risk it.
“(Coach Cole Mecham) said hold your head up high,” Fowles said. “This was a fun game, a well-fought game, so he said just hold your heads up high.”