This season, with the Red Devils so far holding onto a 15-3 overall record and the No. 2 spot among all 3A schools in the state (No. 20 among all teams, regardless of classification), it might be a championship-bound year for Red and White. The cagers of Moab didn’t disappoint against the Manti Templars last Saturday night as they beat the team from Sanpete, 77-70, in Grand’s final home game of the year.
The win also means Grand is undefeated at home and holds a record of 7-2 in 3A Region 15. One of those region losses was to Manti, 70-62, on Jan. 5. After a weekend of research, The Times-Independent has been unable to determine via the record books, or via former coaching staff, the last time the Red Devils went undefeated at home outside the 1973 championship season.
“It may have happened in the 1990s or early 2000s,” GCHS Activities Director Ron Dolphin said. “We really don’t know.”
After a ceremony recognizing the seniors on the team — Josh Jones, Masen Ward, Alec Williams and Brayden Schultz — the Red Devils took to the court and began a jaunt that would see them outscore the Templars in all but one quarter of the game.
While Manti was very successful from the three-point line in the first quarter, with Templar senior Matthew Nelson dropping four in a row, the Red Devils saw a big defensive effort from junior Cameron Hoppensteadt as he snagged four rebounds and grabbed two steals. The Templars were able to take a 14-11 lead midway through the period, but thanks to a basket by senior Brayden Schultz, and a pair of free throws from Williams with .7 seconds left, the Red Devils headed into the second quarter ahead, 19-16.
The Red Devils were able to run up a 38-33 lead by the end of the half after Hoppensteadt, Jones, Williams, and Kevin Park combined for 16 points — and junior Nolan Ramirez added a booming three-pointer from far beyond the arc. On the last play of the half Williams tried for another bucket, but ended up drawing a charge on Nelson before the buzzer sent both teams to the locker room.
“During halftime coach [Scott Horton] told us we had to stay on top of our offensive game and keep up a really strong defense, which we did coming into the second,” Jones said. “We got a little sloppy and [Nelson] was a strong player for Manti ... he got in our way quite a bit, so ... we had to overcome a lot, but we did.”
The second half bore out a tale of Manti attempting a comeback — and the Templars indeed outscored the Red Devils by a single point, 17-16, in the third period — but it wasn’t quite the quarter Grand County expected as they lost a 50-37 lead by midway though the period.
The sloppiness Jones refers to is the fact that, in the third quarter, Grand County gave up a 13-point lead. By the time the game was into the fourth quarter Manti had shrunk the Red Devil lead to just three points.
“We knew we had to get out there and get after it and never quit,” Horton said. “We knew this was a must-win game and we saw a little lack of discipline. We had some lapses but we fixed them.”
The fix came in the form of a 23-20 quarter from Grand County — including a booming three-pointer from Ward and two big buckets each from Hoppensteadt and Schultz. Another factor was Manti’s loss of senior Dylan Wathen after he fouled out on a technical violation.
At the end of the game, as the buzzer sounded and the Red Devils posted their 77-70 victory, a crowd of Red Devil family and friends swarmed the court to congratulate the team — and the four seniors said they were ecstatic over the win.
“This is crazy,” Shultz said after the game. “This is great because it’s the first senior night that has given us a win in at least four years, so it’s huge. Tonight, we turned it on in the second half. It’s what we do.”
Given the fact that Grand County hasn’t competed for a state championship in more than four decades, Williams thinks this could be a historic year for the team.
“This is big and it really leads us into a good place headed to the playoffs,” Williams said. “We haven’t been the state championship in 45 years, so with how good we’re doing right now, it’s great to hopefully be a part of Red Devil history.”
When it came to assessing the game — one where the referees tallied up four fouls against Ward — he said it was a credit to the team that they were able to rally for the victory.
“We worked together when everything went downhill,” Ward said. “There were a lot of things going against us in the game and it’s great that we were able to pull through and deliver a win for the team.”
According to Jones, the four seniors have been playing together since they were just starting school in Moab. The fact that they have played as a group for so long is something he said makes the difference this season.
“We’ve been doing this since we were little kids,” Jones said. “It’s been our whole lives together, since we could shoot, so it’s surreal to be going this far with this group of guys. You don’t think it will ever happen. It’s crazy.”
The Red Devils will face South Sevier (14-3, 7-2) on Friday night at 7 p.m. in Monroe. Grand County beat the Rams in double OT on Jan. 13 — and the next meeting of the two squads is one Horton said his team has been getting ready for all week.
“We started Monday preparing for South Sevier again and we’ll go from there,” Horton said. “I’m not thinking about any trip to the state championships right now. Like I’ve always said, we’re taking it one game at a time.”