ST. GEORGE — It was an epic game that, as it turns out, meant nothing for the Zion Lions and everything for the Utah Wildcats.
In a defensive war, the Wildcats scored their only offensive touchdown of the game on a four-yard TD pass from Justin Summers to Major Smith in the second overtime to outlast the Lions 14-8 Saturday night in the Dixie Sunbowl. A fumbled snap on Zion’s final possession was pounced on by the ‘Cats to end the game and send the Wildcats into the RMFL playoffs.
With the win, the Wildcats end up as the No. 6 (and final) playoff team in the RMFL Big 9 South Conference and will play at the Las Vegas Trojans next Saturday.
The loss turns out to be no big deal for the Lions, who still get the No. 2 seed (and a bye next week) in the RMFL playoffs, thanks to the Davis Vipers’ 36-20 win over the Trojans. The Lions, Trojans and Shock end up in a three-way tie for second place. Zion beat the other two teams and gets the No. 2 spot. The Trojans beat the Shock and earn the No. 3 seed. The Shock are the No. 4 seed and will host the Vipers next Saturday.
As for Saturday in the Dixie Sunbowl, well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it was a beautiful game for Lions defensive coordinator Matt Loo.
“The defenses played solid,” Loo said. “We have a lot of talented guys on our defense and basically we just put them on the field, let them get comfortable and let them play the game.”
The Lions defense pitched a shutout through four quarters and an overtime, with the Wildcats only score coming on a 63-yard pick-six by Mike Tweet early in the third quarter. But without Josh Ford or Misi Tupe at quarterback and Sione Tapuosi, Rimo Mapu or Matt Feula at running back, the Lions offense struggled mightily.
Zion finally tied the score with just under two minutes left in the game when AJ Martinez found Clifton Smith from 13-yards out to make it 8-6. Viliami Hafoka then hit tight end Brandon Thompson for the game-tying two-point conversion to make it 8-8 with 1:53 to play.
The regulation drama was not over, however, as the Wildcats threw an interception with under a minute to play and Martinez found Clifton Smith to get the ball to the 40-yard line of the Wildcats. The ‘Cats then committed two personal fouls to set the Lions up at the 10-yard line with five seconds on the clock.
But, alas, Zion kicker Nick Hafen shanked the field goal wide left as time expired to send the game to overtime.
Neither team was able to score in the first OT, but the Wildcats got a controversial pass interference call to negate a Zion interception, then punched the ball in on the diving grab by Smith from four-yards out to take a 14-8 lead.
The two-point conversion try was no good, leaving the door open for the Lions, but two plays into their possession, the shotgun snap bounced off of Martinez’ hands and the Wildcats jumped on it to end the contest.
“We didn’t know the Trojans had lost until after the game and we definitely tried our hardest to get this win,” Loo said. “We didn’t have all our guys, but that’s the nature of this league. You never know for sure who is going to show up healthy. But those that do show up play with their hearts and give it all they’ve got and you’ve got to be proud of that.”
Zion outgained the Wildcats 270-96 in yardage. The Lions defense allowed minus-four yards rushing on 37 Wildcat attempts. Hafoka had 84 yards rushing as QB from the Wildcat/spread formation. He also passed for 81 yards, but threw two interceptions, including that pick-six to Tweet.
And that was kind of the theme for the night for the Lions. A turnover (five in all) either stopped Zion scoring threats or created opportunities for the Wildcats. Lions coach Dale Stott, who hustled off after the game to look after injured son (and Lions starting center) Trevor Stott after a knee injury, proved prophetic when he said Friday night that his team should win if it could avoid turnovers.
“The defense on both sides was really great,” Major Smith said. “It was a hard-fought game. We came down here and struggled a little bit, so to come out with a win is a big look for us.”
The playoff picture in the RMFL was still cloudy until that fumble recovery finally cleared things up for the Wildcats. They end up in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots with the Vipers and Sting. The Vipers get the first as they swept the other two teams. The Wildcats beat the Sting to gain the other spot, leaving the Brigham Sting home for the playoffs.
RMFL Big 9 South scores
Wildcats 14, Lions 8
Vipers 36, Trojans 20
Sting 33, Hawks 30
Rev 2, Raiders 0 (Raiders forfeit)
Final RMFL Big 9 South Standings
Wasatch Revolution 7-1
Zion Lions 5-3
Las Vegas Trojans 5-3
Utah Shock 5-3
Davis Vipers 4-4
Utah Wildcats 4-4
Brigham Sting 4-4
Vegas Hawks 2-6
Las Vegas Raiders 0-8
RMFL Big 9 South Playoff matchups
First Round (Jun. 11)
Utah Wildcats at Vegas Trojans
Davis Vipers at Utah Shock
Second Round (Jun. 18)
Wasatch Revolution vs. Vipers-Shock winner
Zion Lions vs. Wildcats-Trojans winner
Championship (Jun. 25)
@ Weber State (unless Lions or Trojans are highest remaining seed)
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