ST. GEORGE — It’s no secret that the Zion Lions have an excellent defense — the best in the Rocky Mountain Football League the past few seasons.
Now, it’s starting to look like that Zion offense might be pretty darn good as well.
“I’m especially happy for Josh Ford,” Zion coach Dale Stott said. “He had a very difficult first quarter in his first game, but tonight he came out and rushed for 127 yards and completed 80 percent of his passes. He did an excellent job. And offensive line-wise, I was really happy with our blocking. We shored up some things there.”
The Lions also took care of what had been a huge problem in Week 1 — turnovers. Zion had five in a 10-7 loss to the Brigham Sting, but just two against the Hawks.
“We’re a ground and pound team — hard, rough pounding the rock,” Ford said. “That’s who we are on offense, but you’ve got to take care of the ball. I thought our offense clicked a little better today, but we still have a lot of room for improvement.”
Ford threw two interceptions, but one was called back on a defensive penalty. The Lions also lost one fumble. But Ford said he is starting to feel more comfortable each week calling the signals.
“It’s a hard thing reading the coverage as a quarterback,” he said. “As a receiver, I could tell, but I gotta tell you, athletically, hopping in to quarterback is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s definitely the hardest position I’ve ever played. It’s fun as hell, but definitely a huge learning curve.”
Ford opened the game with a 26-yard run, then handed the ball off the rest of the opening drive to the trio of Sione Tapuosi, Rimo Mapu and Matt Feula. Tapuosi capped the 60-yard drive with a 1-yard dive to give the Lions their first lead of the season at 7-0 five minutes in.
After a Vegas fumble gave the Lions the ball at their own 39-yard line, Ford led Zion on a quick 5-play, 61-yard drive that ended when Ford found Kaipo Hurtt from 20-yards out for a score. That made it 14-0, still in the first quarter.
The rest of the half was ruled by the two defenses, with Zion bending, but not breaking. Twice, Vegas got the ball inside the Lions red zone, only to turn the ball over on downs both times.
The Lions then opened the second half by recovering a Hawks fumble at the Vegas 18-yard line. Three plays later, Mapu barreled in from 5-yards out to make it 21-0 early in the third quarter.
The Hawks finally put together a scoring drive on the next possession. Starting from the 30-yard line, QB Willie Brisco completed three quick passes (plus a personal foul on the Lions) to move the ball to the Zion 21-yard line. Another penalty on Zion moved it to the 16, where Anthony Wilkerson danced through the Lions defense for a score. Brisco hit Trey Robinson for the two-point conversion to make it 21-8 with still four minutes left in the third.
But the Lions offense showed its growth by answering the bell on the next drive. Ford capped the 5-play, 63-yard drive with a 44-yard TD run, twice faking defenders nearly out of their shoes.
“We’ve been practicing a lot working on the offense,” said Zion receiver Bailey Glass. “This is a better representation of what our offense is all about, spreading things around, throwing a bit, running the ball.”
Glass had four catches for 37 yards and also ran the ball three times on fly sweeps for 72 yards. And with the offense really starting to click, it wasn’t long before the Lions scored again.
After a Hawks punt, Glass rushed for nine yards, then caught consecutive passes from Ford for nine and 19 yards. A Ford keeper got the ball down to the four, where Tapuosi pounded it into the end zone to make it 35-8 on the fifth play of the fourth quarter.
The score remained 35-8 until the Hawks were able to punch one in with under two minutes to go. Brisco hit Robinson from 41-yards out and a two-pointer made it 35-18.
The Hawks then tried an unsuccessful onside kick. With Misi Tupe at quarterback, the Lions struck quickly to up the lead to 41-16, causing tempers to flare on the Vegas sideline. After the Tupe-to-Hurtt 16-yard TD pass with 19 seconds left, the teams squared off in the middle of the field. Officials decided to call the game at that point and calmer heads prevailed.
“We didn’t carry ourselves as we should have,” said Zion defensive back Brandon Thompson. “We shined in some spots, but we failed in others, so we’ll go back to the drawing board. We played with good intensity, but we’ve still got to get better.”
Five different players had at least 20 rushing yards for the Lions, who averaged 8.4 yards per rush. Along with his 127 rushing yards, Ford was 8 for 10 for 91 yards passing.
Brisco passed for 210 yards on 17 of 33 attempts. Robinson had nine catches for 115 yards. But the Hawks had little success running the ball, picking up 87 yards on 24 attempts (3.6 ypc).
The Lions, 1-1, play at the Davis Vipers next Saturday with a 3 p.m. kickoff. The Hawks, 0-3, will host the Wasatch Revolution.
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