ST. GEORGE – The Zion Lions got a ball game from the Brigham Sting, sort of. The Lions were able to overcome some early mistakes to win their opening round in the RMFL playoffs, 30-7, Saturday night at the Dixie Sunbowl.
“You are not going to score a lot of points against this team (Brigham),” said Lions head coach Dale Stott. “They are very disciplined. They don’t make mistakes. They run the ball effectively and take time off the clock. They gave us a good game tonight.”
It was the Sting defense that held early. The Lions took the opening kickoff and drove the ball deep into Sting territory. Misi Tupe got a big chunk with a 60-yard run. But the Sting defense held in the red zone with the help of a personal foul penalty on the Lions. Zion had to settle for a 28-yard Rob Nadalsky field goal with 8:42 remaining in the first.
After the Lion defense forced a punt, Tupe led the offense 62 yards with a 23-yard touchdown run by Matt Feula capping the drive. It was Feula’s first start of the season at running back.
“We were without Sione Tapuosi this week,” said Stott. “Matt (Feula) played running back in high school (Pine View), so we stuck him in this week and he had a great game today.”
The Sting would get on the scoreboard next. After the Lions turned the ball over on downs at their own 40-yard line, Sting quarterback Brad Thurber moved the ball effectively, ending with an 8-yard run by Wes Rees to cut the Lion lead to 10-7 with 9:11 remaining in the second quarter. The touchdown was a rare score given up by the Zion first team defense.
“We gave them a short field,” said Stott. “They took advantage. They have a hard-nose running attack.”
After the teams traded possessions, the Lions took over at their own 8-yard line with just under five minutes to go in the half. Taking less than two minutes off the clock, the Lions scored quickly. The touchdown was a 49-yard Tupe strike to Josh Ford. With 2:57 to play in the half, the Lions led 17-7.
The teams actually traded interceptions to close out the first half.
After the intermission, the Sting drove the ball to the Lions 37-yard line before turning it over on downs. On their third sustained drive of the game, the Lions turned to Feula, who would strike again with a 15-yard touchdown run.
“I was surprised how often my number got called,” said Feula. “Misi is the leading rusher in the league. It was nice that he and the coaches had confidence in me. I was happy I could contribute.”
With 6:31 to play the Lions had stretched the lead to 24-7. Zion had another opportunity to score when Dom Vargas intercepted Thurber with 13 seconds remaining in the third. On the next play, Tupe found Tanner Wood with a 45-yard strike. Wood had the ball stripped, however, by Sting strong safety Cory Hart at the 9-yard line. Free safety Justin Warenski scooped the ball up and raced back 44 yards.
The Sting could not take advantage of the momentum swing though, again giving the ball back on downs.
The Lions put up another insurance score in the fourth when Tupe found Viliami Hafoki with a 28-yard pass with 3:45 remaining.
“That was a play that had worked earlier when Josh (Ford) scored,” said Stott. “It was open again and Tupe’s pass was spot-on.”
The PAT went wide on Nadalsky’s only miscue of the day and the score remained 30-7.
The loss terminates the season for the Sting, who end up with a record of 5-4. The Lions advance to the second round, where they will host the Idaho Mustangs.
“The Mustangs are better than people think,” said Stott. “ I thought they were going to be the top seed in the North Division but they stumbled down the stretch. But they won handily (24-0) in their first-round game against the Anarchy.”
Game time Saturday night is 7 p.m. at the Dixie Sunbowl.
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