Perfection personified: Diamond Ranch ends undefeated season with 1A state championship win over Kanab

The Diamond Ranch Diamondbacks hoist the state championship trophy, Diamond Ranch Academy vs. Kanab, 1A Football State Finals, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 14th, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

CEDAR CITY — There’s nothing quite like a perfect season and for kids who have struggled in life like the athletes at Diamond Ranch Academy, it just doesn’t get any better than Saturday’s sunny championship at SUU’s Eccles Coliseum.

drakanabDiamond Ranch Academy forced six turnovers in the 1A state championship game to nudge past southern Utah rival Kanab 23-20 and capture the 2015 1A football title. The Diamondbacks finish the year with a perfect 11-0 record.

Diamond Ranch had rolled through its 2015 schedule, beating every opponent by at least four touchdowns, with the lone exception of a mid-September close victory over Duchesne.

Diamond Ranch's Aaron Kern (1) breaks out for a long run during the game winning drive, Diamond Ranch Academy vs. Kanab, 1A Football State Finals, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 14th, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Diamond Ranch’s Aaron Kern (1) breaks out for a long run during the game winning drive, Diamond Ranch Academy vs. Kanab, 1A Football State Finals, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 14th, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

But the D-backs found themselves behind 20-16 with just under four minutes left in the game Saturday. The Cowboys had just taken the lead on a Layne Anderson 2-yard TD rush, making it a four-point Kanab lead with 3:53 left on the clock.

After a kickoff out of bounds, DRA took over at the 35-yard line. With the enormity of the situation, Diamond Ranch coach Robbie Dias decided he needed to talk to his boys and called a timeout.

“The only thing that was said was that we’ve come too far and we’ve been told too many times that we can’t do this and this isn’t going to happen,” said running back Aaron Kern. “We all looked at each other and said ‘Let’s go man. We gotta fight. Fight to the end.'”

Coming out of the timeout, DRA quarterback Thomas McCann handed to Kern on an option read play. The junior speedster hit the hole at full speed and burst into the secondary and the race was on. Sixty-four yards later, Kanab was able to force him out of bounds at the 1-yard line, but the dye had been cast. One play later, McCann dove in to lift the D-backs into the lead.

Diamond Ranch's Trevor Alvarez (15) puts a hit on Kanab's Layne Anderson (22) in the end zone, Diamond Ranch Academy vs. Kanab, 1A Football State Finals, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 14th, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Diamond Ranch’s Trevor Alvarez (15) puts a hit on Kanab’s Layne Anderson (22) in the end zone, Diamond Ranch Academy vs. Kanab, 1A Football State Finals, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 14th, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

The DRA defense did the rest, recovering a fumble on Kanab’s second play after the TD and the Diamondbacks were able to run out the clock.

“We had to get them together, help them breathe and let them know they had four minutes and they could do anything in four minutes, that it was going to be OK. ” Dias said of the late timeout. “They definitely listened and pulled through.”

Many fans, and some Diamond Ranch players, expected this game to be a blowout, especially since Diamond Ranch had beaten Kanab 28-0 just a month ago. But the Cowboys played tough and might have won the game if not for six turnovers, including five lost fumbles.

“I actually thought it would be a blowout,” McCann said. “But Kanab came out and gave it their all and we gave it our all. It was a hard fight all the way to the end.”

Even with all the turnover problems, Kanab kept the game close. Diamond Ranch had a 16-6 lead early in the second half when D-backs linebacker Jack Dowdell stepped in front of a screen pass and rumbled 10 yards into the end zone.

“I just saw that they were overloading that side and I knew I had to scoot out,” Dowdell said. “He threw the ball right to me and I just smashed it. It was easy in the moment, but there was definitely time to think about what would happen if I dropped it.”

Kanab's Monte Glover (11) makes a diving catch, Diamond Ranch Academy vs. Kanab, 1A Football State Finals, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 14th, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Kanab’s Monte Glover (11) makes a diving catch, Diamond Ranch Academy vs. Kanab, 1A Football State Finals, Cedar City, Utah, Nov. 14th, 2015, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

But the Cowboys stayed in the game by putting together an 11-play, 78-yard drive late in the third that cut it to 16-13. Brandon Southwick’s 4-yard TD catch on a pass from Layne Anderson with three seconds left in the third made it a game again.

Kanab then stunned the crowd by taking the lead on a seven-play, 80-yard drive to take the lead on an Anderson keeper from two yards out.

That set up the ultimate game-winning drive by the Diamondbacks.

“Kanab did not lay down,” Kern said. “They came out and fought. As we were shaking hands, I told them, ‘You all fought hard.’ That wasn’t just given to us. We had to come out and take it. I give all the props to Kanab for fighting the way they did.”

Kern, who is in his second season at DRA, finished the game with 124 yards on 16 carries, including that 64-yarder late in the game.

“He’s done that all year,” McCann said of Kern’s big play. “It was great. Aaron just keeps doing it again and again and gave us a chance to win the game. It was perfect. It was designed perfect and all players were in on it. They wanted to win and they did the right job.”

Diamond Ranch, a private, tuitioned school that is geared toward rehabilitating and educating teens who have slipped out of the mainstream for various reasons, is still trying to find its niche in Utah high school sports. Competing as a 1A school, based on size, the Diamondbacks played for the state championship last season, losing to Rich 20-0, a week after beating Kanab 29-28 in the semifinals.

Talent-wise, DRA attracts some athletes who are college-level players. But with an extremely high tuition that includes room and board and an average stay of just 10-12 months at the school, establishing any kind of consistency can be difficult. The athletes come — from around the country — and just like that, they are gone again. Treatment finished. Game over.

Kern, from Louisiana, and Dowdell, from Montana, are both just juniors. But they may or may not be back for the 2016 season.

The Diamondbacks had just two close games in 2015, a 34-30 win over Duchesne in mid-September and Saturday’s state championship victory. Every other game was won by at least four touchdowns.

“This has been such a fun group of guys,” Dias said. “Our coaching staff is just so proud of these guys with the things that they had to go through and the battles that they battled. The fact that they were able to do what they did and go undefeated and work hard and I think learn in their lives that they can be winners. They are going to be winners.”

Kanab, which got 251 passing yards from Anderson, finishes the year 8-3.

Stats: kandra111415

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

Posted in Sports, Top Sports StoriesTagged , , ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.