1 of 40
Nick Wagner, Deseret News
Duchesne's Jaren Mortensen celebrates his touchdown with teammate Steven Skewes during the UHSAA 1A state championship football game against Kanab at Southern Utah University in Cedar City on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. Duchesne took the title over Kanab with its 19-17 victory.
This is everything we’ve been working for since we were third-graders. —Weston Poulson

CEDAR CITY — Kanab had been throwing in the direction of Duchesne cornerback Ammon Graehl all game, or as Duchesne coach Jerry Cowan called it, “they were picking on him.”

Kanab picked on Graehl one too many times.

With Duchesne leading, but Kanab driving late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 1A championship game at Southern Utah, Graehl stepped in front of a pass thrown his way and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown.

When Kanab answered back with a touchdown in the final minute — and Duchesne recovered in the ensuing onside kick — Graehl’s touchdown proved to be the title clincher as Duchesne edged Kanab 19-17 to claim its first 1A state championship since 2013.

“That’s a kid who has worked his butt off to be on that field and nothing’s ever come easy for him,” said Cowan. “He found a way to seal the game for us. It was a rough game for him, but when it came down to it, all the weights, all the sprints, all the hard work paid off for him on one play.”

Graehl’s interception was one of five on the day for Duchesne, with Chad Lewis, Jaren Mortensen, Kenyen Kielbasa and Weston Poulson also snatching one.

“We just had all our players in the right coverage, and we just had to make a play,” said Poulson.

Kielbasa’s interception also came in the fourth quarter, one series before Graehl’s clincher, as he dove to snatch a ball tipped by the wide receiver.

For Duchesne the victory avenged a shutout loss to Kanab earlier in the season.

“Last year we lost a game like this to them where we missed a field goal at the end (in the semifinals), this year it could’ve went the same way. Our kids fought. I’m so proud of them,” said Cowan. “It’s as sweet of a win as I’ve ever been a part of. I’m so proud to be an Eagle right now.”

Kanab led the entire game until Graeh’s touchdown with 2:41 remaining, but it could never add onto its 10-6 halftime lead despite two trips into the red zone in the third quarter. Both drives were backed up because of penalties, with one ending in an interception and the other on downs.

The Cowboys always had the luxury of field position though, but that changed on a 75-yard halfback pass from Steven Skewes to Chad Lewis two plays into the fourth quarter. Lewis was dragged down at the 6-yard line, but Duchesne looked poised to take the lead.

Kanab’s defense had other ideas, stuffing Duchesne at the 1-yard line on third and fourth down.

“We thought we could win the game if we scored there, but didn’t get in,” said Cowan. “Once again our defense had to snap on their chin strap and stop them one more time.”

Duchesne got a quick stop and great field position again for the offense. On third and 10, it seized its first lead as Jaren Mortensen took a screen pass from Jarett Spencer 33 yards for the touchdown and the 13-10 lead.

“We’d been setting that up, and we hoped we’d get a chance to run that play. Our line made two blocks on the edge there,” said Cowan.

Duchesne’s stout defense made sure the lead held up with a pair of interceptions down the stretch that helped it clinch the title.

Kanab quarterback Tavin Ott spoiled Duchesne’s bid for a second-half shutout when he scored on a 6-yard run with 48 seconds left, but the onside kick went out of bounds and Duchesne ran out the clock to clinch its sixth state title in school history.

“This is everything we’ve been working for since we were third-graders,” said Poulson.

In the first half, Kanab marched right downfield on its opening possession taking the early 7-0 lead as Parker Collins capped a 10-play drive by hauling in a 10-yard TD pass from Ott for with 3:48 left in the first quarter.

Equally as impressive was how effective Kanab’s defense was in stuffing Duchesne on its first three drives, limiting the Eagles to just 23 yards and one first down.

Duchesne started to figure things out offensively on its fourth drive. With Poulson and Skewes racking up big run after big run, Kanab methodically drove 70 yards on 11 plays as Poulson capped the drive on a 1-yard TD plunge to cut the deficit to 7-6 after the missed extra point.

Kanab pushed its lead to 10-6 on the last play of the half as Carter Jackman’s 30-yarder narrowly cleared the crossbar.

Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: jedward@deseretnews.com