ST. GEORGE — As far as football games go, it was hardly a thing of beauty, with eight combined turnovers and 36 combined penalties. But then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the Zion Lions can smile a satisfied smile with their 21-6 playoff victory over the Vegas Trojans.
“Honestly, this is the first time this year that someone’s defense matched our offense with their physicality,” said Lions running back Sione Tapuosi. “This defense, they bring it. We had to do some different things to figure out how to get some points. But our defense was great, too.”
The hand-to-hand combat went the Lions way, earning them a trip to a third consecutive RMFL championship game — all three against the Wasatch Revolution. Two years ago, the Rev upset the Lions (then the Rebels) 26-21 and last season Wasatch beat the undefeated Lions 30-21. The two will meet again next Saturday at 8 p.m. at Weber State University’s Stewart Stadium.
This week, it was a battle of backup quarterbacks, with Zion’s Josh Ford and Vegas’s James Cammack both out with shoulder injuries. With both teams featuring stout defenses and the offenses reaching deep in the depth chart, there didn’t figure to be a lot of scoring. But no one saw the penalty-fest coming.
“It was kind of ugly at times, but we just tried to do what what needed to do,” Zion quarterback Misi Tupe said.
A classic example of the kind of game it was came late in the first quarter. At their own five-yard line, the Lions tossed up a deep pass that was intercepted and returned to the 35-yard line. A personal foul on the Lions moved the ball to the Zion 20, but Trojans QB Kris Kellum was blindsided and fumbled on the very next play. The loose ball was returned to the Trojans’ 45 by Danry Hargest. A few plays later, the Trojans were flagged for a pass interference to move the ball to the 11-yard line.
Tupe found Bailey Glass from there for the first score of the game with 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Trojans weren’t having any luck on offense, managing just 47 yards on 24 plays in the first half. By comparison, they had 66 first-half yards in penalties.
“Our defense has been stellar all year, with the exception of one game and they certainly got it done tonight,” Lions coach Dale Stott said. “It’s the backbone of the team. I also thought our patched up offensive line did a great job.”
The Lions O-line was without three starters, but one of the guys who stepped up big was Vince Feula, who played defensive end in college at BYU.
“Vince coming in and playing center was great,” Stott said. “He could have played in the NFL as a center. Honestly, I think that’s his natural position. He hasn’t ever played it and he’s terrific. He’s a great D-end, but he’s a perfect center. He’s just awesome.”
After the initial TD, the Lions defense again stuffed the Trojans, forcing a punt. Zion took over 85 yards from paydirt, but running back Michael Matalolo covered half that on the first play, taking a pitch from Tupe and juking his way for 42 yards. Three plays later, Tupe and Glass hooked up again, this time from 34 yards out, to make it 14-0.
“Misi’s our leader and he does so many things,” Stott said. “Both touchdown passes were improvisations — basically broken plays that he made it happen. He makes lemonade out of lemons.”
With both defenses bringing the wood, the score stayed 14-0 until the fourth quarter. Kellum, who played most of the game at quarterback, moved to receiver and finally got the Trojans on the scoreboard with 7:01 left in the game. He caught a deep ball from wildcat QB Kimo Hutchinson to cut it to 14-6. The Trojans tried a fake extra point, but the pass was intercepted by Lion defender Matthew Mitchell and returned to the other end zone.
Confusion reigned for a few moments as the officials tried to determine if a returned two-point conversion should count for two points for the defense, but it was eventually ruled a dead ball and the score remained 14-6.
Vegas got the ball back at its own 48-yard line after a failed fourth down attempt by the Lions. But as had happened most of the night, the Trojans couldn’t move the ball, netting zero yards on four plays. The Lions then put the game away with a TD drive in the closing moments, capped by a Tupe 10-yard scramble around the right end.
The 34-year-old Tupe, who was an all-league linebacker at Texas A&M, said he’s just out there having some fun.
“This is a hobby for us right now, so whatever time we have, we come down and get a sweat in,” said Tupe, who is an assistant coach at Snow College. “Whatever they need, I’m here to just do whatever Coach Stott tells me to do.”
The Lions, 6-3, managed 238 yards of offense in the game, with Tupe passing for 101 and two scores and rushing for 43 and another TD. Glass had six catches for 90 yards. But Zion also had 20 penalties for 148 yards, and that doesn’t count several penalties that were declined or were offset by a Trojan infraction. The Lions also had three turnovers.
The stat line was worse for the Trojans, 6-4, who had just 145 yards of offense and five turnovers. Vegas also had 115 penalty yards and was a combined 2 for 21 on third and fourth downs. Kellum had 65 passing and 62 receiving.
“We stuck to our game plan on defense and played sound football,” Hargest said. “The whole game plan was to be very physical and to trust each other.”
As for next week’s championship opponent for the Lions, the Wasatch Revolution barely escaped against the Utah Shock. The Shock led 34-14 late in the third quarter and still held a 34-21 advantage into the fourth quarter. But Wasatch cut it to 34-28 with five minutes to play and then scored the game-winner with five seconds left to take a 35-34 victory.
This week’s RMFL semifinal scores
Big 9 (AAA)
Revolution 35, Shock 34
Lions 21, Trojans 6
Great North (AA)
Gladiators 19, Xtreme 10
Cobras 21, Anarchy 12
Next Week’s RMFL championship schedule (@ Weber State University)
Big 9 Bowl
11 a.m. — Sting v Wildcats
Great North All-Star game
Great North Championship
5 p.m. — #1 Gladiators vs. #2 Cobras
Big 9 Championship
8 p.m. — #1 Revolution v #2 Lions
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