I’ve been dreaming about this since third grade, been playing with all these guys since third grade. —Keegan Stracher
CEDAR CITY — Undefeated South Summit didn’t take anything for granted heading into Saturday’s 2A championship.
It knows anything can happen on championship Saturday, something it experienced firsthand in back-to-back losses to Beaver in the past two title games.
There was no way coach Mike Grajek or his players were going to get a big head regardless of a 23-point win against Beaver earlier this season.
It was that businesslike approach that ultimately allowed South Summit to remain focused in some tense situations in the second half as it eventually pulled away from Beaver for the convincing 38-10 victory at Southern Utah.
“The kids are excited. It’s awesome. They put a lot of hard work in, all summer, all fall, believed in the process,” said Grajek.
Jared Dansie rushed for two touchdowns and Keegan Stracher hauled in two TD receptions of his own from Kael Atkinson as the Wildcats outscored Beaver 17-0 in the fourth quarter to capture their first title since back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014.
That usual offensive output was more than enough for South Summit’s top-ranked defense, which held Beaver to 278 yards of total offense and just 10 points. It was Beaver’s second-lowest output of the season — the first in the earlier loss to South Summit in Week 4.
“The defense was unbelievable. It’s a bend don’t break,” said Grajek.
That defensive mentality played out in two huge defensive stands in the second half for South Summit. Trailing 21-7 at the half, Beaver opened the third quarter with an impressive 14-play drive, but it was forced to settle for a field goal after a big sack by the Wildcats for a 9-yard loss on first down.
Then, midway through the fourth quarter with South Summit leading 24-10, it denied Beaver quarterback Porter Hollingshead at the 1-yard line on fourth and goal after the Beavers were in great shape with a first and goal.
Dansie scored on a 37-yard TD run three plays later to push the lead to 31-10 and then Braxton Crystal made it a 38-10 lead on a 25-yard interception return.
Dansie had a season-high 20 carries and 150 yards on a busy day for the running back who in earlier games this season only had four or five offensive touches.
“I love it. I’ll do anything I can to help my team win, whatever they need me to do I’ll do it,” said Dansie.
Grajek said it was no accident that Dansie played a big role.
“Beaver is such a well-coached team, they do such a good job we want to take what they’re giving us, so I slowed down a little bit to count numbers in the box. Run when they had less numbers, pass when they had more numbers,” said Grajek.
Despite Beaver keying on the pass at times, Atkinson still had a big day with 196 passing yards, while Stracher did much of the damage with six receptions for 173 yards.
“I can’t even describe the feeling, I’m just super happy. I’ve been dreaming about this since third grade, been playing with all these guys since third grade,” said Stracher.
South Summit was loose to start the game and marched right downfield on the opening possession of the game with a mix and run and pass, but the promising 10-play drive ended with a fumble at the 5-yard line. Beaver coughed it right back near midfield midway through the first quarter as both offenses showed early nerves in ball security.
The Wildcats settled right down on their next two possessions, scoring touchdowns on both for the 14-0 lead with 11:05 remaining in the second.
Dansie put South Summit on the board first as he darted untouched into the end zone from 2 yards out with 2:19 left in the first, but the highlight of the drive belonged to Parker Grajek and Stracher. They connected on a reverse halfback pass on third and 15 with Stracher out-leaping two defenders for the catch at Beaver’s 6-yard line.
On South Summit’s next drive, Stracher doubled the lead on a 23-yard TD reception from Atkinson as he tapped his foot just inside the sideline before a Beaver safety could push him out of bounds.
Atkinson got dinged up on South Summit’s fourth series, and despite a couple first downs with him on the sideline it was forced to punt near midfield.
Beaver’s offense, which leaned heavily on the pass in the first half without much success, finally got things rolling midway through the second quarter on the ground.
Aided by two 15-yard South Summit penalties, Beaver marched 78 yards in two minutes as Tyce Raddon scored on a 1-yard run with 3:52 remaining in the half, cutting the deficit to 14-7. Beaver quarterback Hollingshead had three carries for 40 yards on the drive.
With Atkinson back on the field, the Wildcats had the perfect response on their ensuing drive, methodically marching 75 yards in 11 plays that Stracher again capped on a 20-yard TD reception from Atkinson.
“It was great, it got us going. It’s good to score right before half, we have the energy to come back out here,” said Stracher.