GUNNISON, Sanpete County On one hand, it ought to have been easy for Manti Templar head coach Cole Meacham to have singled out either quarterback Griffin Aste or running back Dave Hugentobler as the key player in Manti's 41-20 victory over the Gunnison Bulldogs.
On the other hand, Meacham refused to do so, though the reason for his refusal took nothing away from the notable performance of either player.
"To me," he said after the game, "it's a team effort. You have receivers that need to get open, a quarterback that needs to get the ball to them, linemen that need to block the other line, and backs that need to run.
"Eleven guys have got to get the job done, and if one of them doesn't, it kills you."
On one hand, Aste didn't seem to have a stunning passing performance in the game -he completed only six passes to his own receivers, while putting two in the hands of opposing players.
On the other hand, Aste's passing performance was quite impressive indeed. Those six completed passes came from only 10 attempts and together yielded 156 yards and one touchdown scored, by tight end Tylan Jackson.
By contrast, Bulldog quarterback Bradley Jackson put the ball in the air 28 times, and Gunnison receivers successfully pulled down eight of those. Manti's defense got two of them, one of which - in a twist of irony cruel to the Bulldogs - was grabbed by Aste in his alternate role as a defensive lineman, who then ran it 30 yards into the end zone.
On one hand, Manti's ground game would appear to have been all Hugentobler, who carried the ball 16 times for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
On the other hand, 10 different Templars ran the ball for Manti, gaining a total of 220 rushing yards.
Again by contrast, only four Bulldog rushers got yards, but those four actually produced more combined yards than Manti's 10 did. Led by running back Heston Neal (who actually outdid Hugentobler with 141 rushing yards and a 35-yard pass reception), Gunnison ran for 245 yards.
But a spate of penalties kept pushing the Bulldogs away from the red zone. Much of their rushing total was gained simply by earning back yards lost due to penalties, and penalties literally took the Bulldogs out of contention for the win. On two different occasions, in addition to the three touchdowns he scored that stood, Neal scored touchdowns that came back because of the yellow flag.
Injuries hurt the Bulldogs, too. In the third quarter, Gunnison's defense simply couldn't keep Manti from marching down the field for 12 straight running plays that ground six-and-a-half minutes of the clock. The struggle of the Bulldog defense was attributed to the loss of two starting linebackers whose shoes their replacements could not quite fill.
Wind was also a factor. Meacham took the strong storm winds into account in his strategy, even using it to his team's aid. On the offensive side, he said he was very conscious of deciding to pass or not pass, depending on whether the wind was with or against them.
Defensively, he said, "We put (Gunnison) in passing situations."