DRAPER — The battle for first place in the 3A South region was all it was hyped up to be as Alexander Saunders drilled what was essentially a walk-off field goal to lift Juan Diego to a 33-28 victory over Juab at home on Friday night.
Saunders, who had missed from 50 and 45 yards earlier in the night, broke a 28-28 tie with a 28-yarder with two seconds to play to give the Soaring Eagle a 31-28 lead. On the ensuing kickoff return, the ball landed at the bottom of a dogpile in the north end zone to secure a Juan Diego safety and the final two points of the evening.
“My mind was clear, actually,” said Saunders of his pre-kick preparation. “I had been in this situation before. I had been struggling all night and I just wanted to come up big for my team.”
Come up big he did, as his kick lifted the Soaring Eagle to sole possession of first place in the region. The worst Juan Diego can do now is tie for the top spot.
“He’s very accurate,” said Soaring Eagle head coach John Colosimo. “He’s a good kicker. He hit it. He was very good and calm.”
Although Saunders may have been calm during his kick, a chain of errors and miscues by Juan Diego on both sides of the ball kept the Wasps in the game. Juab forced three Soaring Eagle turnovers and the Wasps battled back from a 21-6 halftime deficit.
The Soaring Eagle relied heavily on their powerful running attack. Hunter Easterly carried the ball 23 times for 177 yards and a touchdown, Tristen Tonozzi carried 14 times for 132 yards and two scores, and quarterback Zach Hoffman added another touchdown and 89 yards on 16 carries.
Hoffman’s six-yard scoring run put Juan Diego up 7-0 with 3:07 to play in the first quarter. After forcing a three-and-out, the Soaring Eagle muffed a punt and Jaryn Smith fell on the ball for Juab.
Taking advantage of terrific field position at the Juan Diego 33, the Wasps capitalized and cut it to 7-6 with a 15-yard Dallen West scamper. The PAT was blocked.
Juan Diego needed only two plays to build its lead. Tonozzi took off on a 71-yard run to set up first-and-goal at the 2, and he found the end zone one play later for a 14-6 lead with 11:56 to play in the second.
Tonozzi extended the lead with 18 seconds to play before halftime when he scored from 10 yards out to cap a 62-yard drive to put the Soaring Eagle up 21-6 at the half.
The Wasps found some life when Tucker Memmott forced a Juan Diego fumble. Alex White cut into the deficit with a two-yard TD with 9:11 to play. The Wasps trailed 21-12 after another blocked extra point.
Easterly scored on a 51-yard run — his longest gain of the night — to put Juan Diego up 28-12, but White added a 5-yard touchdown run and Easton Wright threw a 20-yard touchdown strike to Macray Stevens. With the two 2-point conversions, the game was tied with 6:02 to play.
The Soaring Eagle forced a turnover on downs and took over at their own 19 with 4:33 to play. Fourteen plays later, and with seven seconds on the clock, Saunders was sent in to win it.
“I’m happy to get this one out of the way,” Colosimo said. “It was fun. It was a great high school football game.”
Colosimo said the turnovers kept Juab in the game, and he credited the Wasps defense for making necessary plays.
“That’s what good teams do,” he said. “They were ball-hawking us and they took the ball away. We’ve got to do a better job of hanging onto the football.”
Father Tim Yanni is an Episcopal priest and hospital chaplain. He attended seminary in Berkeley, CA. He is passionate about prep sports and journalism. Email: [email protected].