ST. GEORGE – It might be a formula, but it sure is a good one.
The Zion Lions semipro football team has had incredible success over the years by using the “run the ball and play tough defense” formula and it worked like a charm once again Saturday night in a 41-14 win over the Utah Wildcats at Panther Stadium.
The victory puts Zion at 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the Rocky Mountain Football League heading into a bye week next week. On the horizon is a road date with the three-time defending champion Wasatch Revolution May 20.
The Lions run game racked up 228 yards (at better than seven yards per rush) and the defense scored a touchdown and set up another in the first quarter to help Zion slowly pull away from the Wildcats.
“There’s no question this game was won by our defense,” Lions coach Dale Stott said. “Not only did they create two scores, but they got stops at critical times. That’s a good football team out there, the Wildcats.”
The defense got the party started in the first quarter when Taris Schramm picked up a fumble by ‘Cats quarterback Andrew Jones and raced 20 yards for a touchdown. Dillon Bishoff’s extra point made it 7-0 with less than three minutes played in the game.
On the next possession, the Wildcats drove to midfield, but Zion’s Brandon “Smashmouth” Thompson jumped an out route and returned the interception 55 yards to the Wildcats 5-yard line. Two Jorey Hansen runs later, it was 14-0.
“I read it, I saw how the slot was just sitting, then bouncing out,” Thompson said. “So as soon as I saw the quarterback turn and look, I just jumped it. The only reason I didn’t score was the dude had the angle on me. I made the quarterback miss, but the other guy was fast so he caught me.”
After another defensive stop by the Lions, QB Diarra Fields led Zion on a scoring drive with some sharp passes. Fields hit Bailey Glass for a 54-yard gain down the right sideline that moved the ball to the Wildcats 21-yard line. Two plays later, on a third-and-6 play, Fields found Glass again, this time on a post move over the middle for a 17-yard touchdown strike that made it 21-0.
Jones, despite the early miscues, led a pretty potent passing attack for the Wildcats. He finished the game with 262 passing yards and a pair of TDs, including a score on the next ‘Cats drive. Jones hit Dontrelle Sanford for 9-yard TD pass that made it 21-6 after a missed two-point conversion pass.
On the next drive, the Lions put together the craziest play of the night. Misi Tupe stepped in at quarterback to run the wildcat. He handed to Prentiss Miller, who pitched at the last second back to Tupe. The 35-year-old Tupe managed to elude tacklers for 60 of the 68 yards needed for a score. Just before he was pulled down by Wildcat tacklers, Tupe pitched to wide receiver Bailey Glass, who plowed into the end zone for the touchdown, making it 27-6 late in the first half.
The Wildcats managed to put together a late drive to cut it to 27-14 before intermission, with Jones finding Sanford from 19-yards out with three seconds left in the half.
The first half featured plenty of defense and some crazy plays, but the Lions stuck more to the script after halftime. Zion opened the third quarter with a drive that featured six straight runs, three of those by RMFL leading rusher Prentiss Miller.
His 43 yards on three carries set the ball up at the Wildcats 26-yard line. On the next play, Tupe hit Justin Fulton on a 26-yard deep ball in the back of the end zone to make it 33-14 and the rout was on. The only other scoring threat in the game for the Wildcats was snuffed out by a LaDonte Moore interception.
“We trust each other,” said Lions safety Isaac Katoa. “Our defense is really starting to click. The offense sets us up well to defend our end zone and we trust our defensive guys up front to make it easier on us DBs.”
Katoa delivered several bone-jarring hits in the game, including one on fourth down near the goal line that separated a receiver from the football.
The running game was the offensive star. The 228 yards were spread between several players – Miller had 66 yards on 10 carries, Tupe went for 52 on four runs, Hansen had 45 on nine totes and Clifton Smith carried twice for 42 yards, including a game-capping 40-yard end-around in the fourth quarter.
“We want to pound the rock every game,” Hansen said. “We want some balance, but we want to run the rock and establish that early. We have a four-headed monster and we all just run hard and we like to share the ball.”
The Lions defense held the Wildcats to 12 rushing yards on 27 attempts. The crafty Jones ran for several yards, but also lost big yardage on several sacks.
Fields passed for 71 yards and a score before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Stott said he should be able to return to action after the Lions’ bye week next week.
Sanford was the receiving star for the Utah Wildcats. He ended up with 12 catches for 148 yards and both TDs for the ‘Cats.
Zion improved to 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the RMFL with the victory. The Wildcats drop to 1-3 on the year.
The Lions next action is May 20 at the Wasatch Revolution. The Rev beat the Utah Shock 30-7 Saturday and are 3-1 overall, with their only loss coming to the Lions (17-14 back on Apr. 8).
Zion Lions 4-0
Wasatch Rev 2-1
Utah Shock 2-2
Utah Wildcats 1-3
Davis Vipers 0-3
Zion 41, Wildcats 14
Rev 30, Shock 7
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