When a football team is struggling, there's nothing better than senior leadership stepping up and leading by example.
That was the case Wednesday night in Morgan as the Trojans overcame a slow start to pummel the visiting North Sanpete Hawks 35-0. With the win, Morgan sets up a clash of 3A North titans next Friday night against Judge Memorial. The Bulldogs trounced Manti 49-20 on Wednesday, and both teams are undefeated in region play.
The Hawks dealt with poor field position and poor decisions all game long, beginning with the opening kickoff. Spencer Applegarth fielded the kickoff at the 5 and managed only seven yards on the return to the North Sanpete 12. After six plays netted only 13 yards, the Hawks were forced to punt.
A short punt and a good return set the Trojans up with the ball on their own 42 yard line to start their first possession. A 25-yard pass from quarterback Ben Saunders to Kade Carrigan moved the ball to the Hawks' 33. After an incomplete pass, Carrigan took a sweep handoff around the right side and scurried to the end zone, giving Morgan the early lead. Dallin Calder's PAT made the score 7-0 just three minutes into the game.
The Trojans' fast start actually was not representative of their success for most of the remainder of the half. The Hawks' next possession started at midfield, but they were unable to penetrate the Morgan side of the field.
Three plays later, Morgan's Matt Murdock fielded a Hawks punt at the Morgan 21 and executed a scintillating punt return 79 yards for an apparent touchdown. However, as has many times been the case for Morgan this season, a yellow penalty marker nullified the score and left Morgan a bit deflated and a long way from the end zone.
The Trojans were unable to put together a drive after that, with penalties, ball security and an interception all issues that stalled Morgan drives. However, the Hawks were even more inept on offense. North Sanpete never entered Morgan territory in the first half, and costly personal foul penalties, poor snaps and quarterback sacks moved the Hawks backward on a consistent basis.
A brief spark of excitement flared at the end of the first half, however, when Morgan received a punt at its own 30 with just 2:05 remaining in the half. Saunders rushed for one yard, and on the next play, lofted a perfect pass down the left sideline where Carrigan caught it in stride and streaked 69 yards for the score. Bridger Streadbeck caught a 2-point conversion pass from Tyler Kelsey, and Morgan took a less-than-pretty 15-0 lead into the half.
That's when the seniors took over.
Kyle Stapley, a senior leader on the offensive and defensive line, said: "At halftime, we seniors talked about how this was the last time to play under our lights. We wanted to make it a great memory and so we decided to step up and play Morgan football."
Head coach Kovi Christiansen agreed that senior leadership made the difference in the second half. "We have a bunch of seniors that are great leaders. Kade is one, Matt (Murdock) leads by example, and so does Stapley on the inside." Behind a stalwart defense and much-improved offensive play in the second half, Morgan added 22 points on two touchdown runs by Carrigan (three yards and 15 yards) and Saunders (one yard).
Meanwhile, the Hawks continued to melt down, not gaining a first down until well into the fourth quarter and only moving into Trojan territory once. Even that was short-lived as penalties and a bad snap moved them back onto their own side of the field before they punted yet again.
For the game, Carrigan finished with 116 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries, with 91 yards receiving and another score. Murdock added 90 yards rushing. Saunders finished with 114 yards passing and a rushing score. All told, Morgan had 406 total yards of offense while holding the Hawks to just 86 yards total.
Morgan faces a stiff foe in Judge next weekend. "We'll prepare for them like crazy and we'll have a battle Friday night," said Christiansen. "It's a great venue for a Friday night. With the region title on the line, it's Friday night football at its best." Stapley agrees. "We're so excited for Judge. It's gonna be a great game."
Look for Morgan's seniors to rise once again to meet the challenge.
Chris VanCampen is a graduate of the University of Utah and Santa Clara Law School and practices law in Heber. He is the father of four, an avid fly-fisherman, and announcer of many Morgan High School sports events. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company