Before the Grand County Red Devils’ 35-17 victory over the Millard Eagles on Friday night, one of the biggest question marks of the season hung over head coach Dennis Wells’ program; could the Devils take their ninth victory — in a win-or-go-home quarter-final game — without the assistance of running back Dakota Johnson?
Johnson, a senior and all-purpose back for the Red Devils, broke his arm during an off-field incident two weeks ago and was ruled out for the remainder of the season by his doctor. Before his injury, Johnson led Grand County in scoring and was a top tackler on defense.
The answer to that question came midway through the match as Grand County headed to the locker room with a 14-2 lead at halftime. That lead came after a pick-six from Kayden Robertson on Millard’s second possession, and although a Millard safety finally got the Eagles on the scoreboard, a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Bryant Troutt essentially sealed the deal in the first half of the game.
It was a performance Wells said he was proud of, especially when it came to capitalizing on turnovers and keeping the Eagles from finding the end zone.
“I thought our defense played really well tonight and we had that interception by Robertson that was a score for us, and it was really amazing for us to have capitalized the way we did because the offense didn’t hardly have the ball in the first half,” Wells said. “That pick-six by Robertson really surprised me because they lined up four guys on one side, which he read really well and just went out there in front of it and got the interception. He jumped right in front of it and took it in for the touchdown.”
In all, the offense only snapped the ball 21 times in the first half and Grand County had an interception for a touchdown by Nick Downard called back on a penalty for bad blocking. Although the Eagles began the game with an 11-play drive — one that that went nowhere following that pick by Downard — the Red Devil defense swarmed after that, holding Millard to six sequential four-and-outs before the buzzer.
“Our line held them particularly well, just like we’ve done all season,” Wells said. “We stopped their defense every time they needed to in the first half.”
And the second half was even more productive for the Red Devils as they tallied up 21 more points off TDs from a Chris Thompson’s recovery of a blocked punt (by Brayden Troutt) that he lumbered 32 yards into the end zone, a 13-yard rambler by Trent Elmore and an 11-yard run by Dante Wells. The Eagles were also productive, adding two touchdowns in the second half, including a successful 2PAT try.
“At halftime, I told the players that the 14-2 score made me too uncomfortable and that’s when we came out and blocked that punt for the score, and then scored two more times, so I think we stepped up pretty well while we were missing (Dakota Johnson) on offense and defense. We had a lot of young guys on the field tonight.”
On offense, Wells spread the ball carrying around, turning to Elmore (13 carries, 112 yards) and Bryant Troutt (13 carries, 100 yards), as well as junior Corbin Arbon, who had two carries for 12 yards. The only real passing of the game from Grand County came in the form of a 15-yard completion to Downard in the second half, though Robertson and Thompson also caught one pass each.
The frenetic nature of the Red Devil defense was apparent in the stat book; a quartet of Grand County backs had tackles-for-loss, with Brayden Troutt (4 yards), Downard (3 yards), Thompson (2 yards) and Robertson (1 yard) rushing the Eagle quarterback or stopping the run. Thompson tallied up 11 total tackles in the game, and Dante Wells recorded six solo stops of his own. Brayden also logged three sacks for 17 yards. Jarrett Reidhead and Jared Smith also took out the Eagles’ quarterback during the game.
The No. 2 Red Devils (9-1, 4-1) will face No. 1 South Summit (10-0, 5-0) at Weber State University in Ogden on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 12 p.m. Ticket prices are $8 for adults and $5 for students. All Grand County High School, Grand County School District and Region 15 passes are not valid for entry into the game.