Zion Lions' Rimo Mapu (5), Zion Lions vs. Las Vegas Spartans, Football, St. George, Utah, Mar. 25, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
ST. GEORGE – The Zion Lions opened the 2017 semipro football season with a resounding statement, scoring 28 points in the first quarter en route to a 52-6 win over the Las Vegas Spartans.
The return of quarterback Diarra Fields was a successful one. After four years away from football, Fields came back and took the reins of the Lions offense, scoring on an 18-yard keeper on the first drive of the game off the read-option.
“I had some butterflies this week leading up to the game, but I woke up this morning feeling good,” Fields said. “We’ve had some great practices leading up to tonight and the O-line and the running backs and receivers were good, so it made it a lot easier on me.”
With a massive and talented offensive line, Zion kept to the ground for the most part and had nearly 200 rushing yards by halftime. Rimo Mapu, Prentiss Miller and Jorey Hansen also scored rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. When Clifton Smith took a reverse pitch from Miller and scampered 41 yards for a TD 20 seconds into the second quarter, the rout was on at 35-6.
The Lions added a passing touchdown just before halftime when Fields found Josh Ford from 25 yards out with a nifty catch in the back of the end zone and it was 42-6 at halftime. But even with the big arm of Fields, the running game was the story.
“It’s pretty typical early season to work out the jitters and run the ball,” Lions coach Dale Stott said. “I have a lot of confidence in this offensive line. It’s the best one we’ve had here and I just wanted to establish some dominance early and I think we did that.”
Zion ended up rushing for 245 yards on 19 attempts (12.9 yards per rush) and had five rushing touchdowns.
Miller, the former Pine View High star, displayed speed and shiftiness in busting off a 39-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He broke four tackles on the play and juked out a couple of defenders before sprinting into the end zone. He finished with 98 total yards.
The Spartans’ lone score came with 3:52 left in the first quarter on a pass from Darnell Richardson to Mike Poarch Jr. that went for 78 yards. Poarch caught the 15-yard slant and broke the first tackle, made one cut and then turned on the afterburners.
The score, despite the missed extra point, made it a one-score game late in the first quarter at 14-6. But Zion answered with a 60-yard drive and Miller’s TD run, then scored again after a Las Vegas interception on a short Hansen dive for six.
Zion scored 10 points in the third quarter, despite an accelerated clock with the mercy rule in effect. Dillon Bishoff kicked a 34-yard field goal and Clifton Smith caught a 35-yard TD strike from Fields.
“Our goal was to come out, keep our fundamentals right and stick to our game,” Smith said. “We’ve been practicing real hard. We’ve got a couple of big games coming up and we’re ready to take on the championship this year.”
Fields did end up passing for 180 yards and those two TDs, completing 8 of 15 pass attempts. Ford, who played quarterback for much of last season, completed a 32-yard halfback pass and also caught a couple of passes from Fields. Smith finished with 75 receiving yards and 41 rushing yards.
The team stats were almost as lopsided as the score, with the Lions outgaining the Spartans 425-142. More than half of Las Vegas’ total yards came on that one scoring play. The Spartans had five turnovers, with Zion defenders Dave Bishoff, Trey Smith, Dominic Vargas and Martavius Mallory all claiming interceptions.
“We wanted to make a statement,” Fields said. “I’ve been away for four years and it kind of hits home that time flies. I wanted to show everybody that I’m back in the RMFL. My teammates made that real easy for me.”
Zion has next Saturday off, but a big game is on the near horizon, with the three-time league champ Wasatch Revolution coming to town Apr. 8. The Rev beat the Lions 21-15 in the RMFL championship game last June.