ST. GEORGE – Given the history of this rivalry, most fans at Panther Stadium Saturday figured the Zion Lions-Wasatch Revolution football game was going to come down to a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter.
Michael Matalolo caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Diarra Fields with 5:24 left in the game and Brandon Thompson, Misi Tupe and the Zion defense stuffed the Rev on fourth down three minutes later as the Lions beat Wasatch 17-14 in front of a vocal crowd Saturday night.
“This rivalry is awesome because it’s been a rivalry since ’09,” Thompson said. “We’ve been going back and forth with them and it’s the best rivalry I’ve seen because we all love each other, but we hate each other at the same time.”
The Rev have defeated the Lions three straight times in the Rocky Mountain Football League championship over the past three seasons, a game that is annually held up in northern Utah. But the Lions are 3-0 at home now against Wasatch after Saturday’s game. But it wasn’t easy as the Rev raced out to a 14-0 lead in the first half.
“There was a sense of calm on our sideline and we felt like we were where we needed to be, even with the early deficit,” Zion coach Dale Stott said. “We made a few adjustments on offense … and the defense shut them out in the second half.”
The Rev looked like they might roll over the Lions after cruising up and down the field in the first half. Zach Guerts rushed for a short TD near the end of the first quarter to make it 7-0 and Joe Mapson caught, then dropped, then caught a 22-yard TD pass from Charlie Peterson with 2:29 left in the second quarter.
But then Zion put together what may have been the most important drive of the game. After a good kick return by Prentiss Miller got the ball near midfield, Fields completed consecutive passes to Dillon Bishoff (6 yards) and Bailey Glass (38 yards) to get the ball to the 7-yard line.
Although the drive stalled from there, Bishoff hit a 24-yard field goal to get the Lions on the board just before halftime.
In the third quarter, the Lions missed a field goal to start things off. But Wasatch fumbled on its next possession and Joe Feula returned the loose ball 31 yards – all the way to the Rev 19-yard line. On the next play, Miller found a seam and sprinted through for a 19-yard TD rush and it was game on at 14-10 with 5:36 to go in the third quarter.
“They were loading the box, so we realized we needed to try and get Prentiss Miller to the edge,” Stott said. “That was helpful.”
For the most part, the two teams were content to keep the ball on the ground and use clock on the blustery night. The Lions got two key stops in the second half that changed the game.
The first came four plays into the fourth quarter. Nursing that four-point lead, Wasatch decided to go for it on fourth-and-5 at the Zion 17-yard line. A slant pass by Peterson was knocked away and gave Zion possession.
That set up the go-ahead drive as a couple of runs gave Zion a first down at its own 28-yard line. On second-and-11 from the 27, Fields gave a pump fake and then threw deep to Clifton Smith, who had gained a step on the defense. Smith made the tricky catch in the wind, eluded a tackler and ran all the way to the Wasatch 12-yard line, a gain of 61 yards.
Two plays later, Fields hooked up with Matalolo on a halfback wheel play for the go-ahead score.
“It’s a play we run a lot in practice,” Matalolo said. “I was just fortunate enough to get in there and make that catch. I have a lot of trust in the quarterback and I just had to be there and make the play. I knew I had to make the catch or suffer the consequences with my teammates.”
The TD made it 17-14 with 5:24 left in the game – still plenty of time for the prolific Rev offense led by the former BYU star, Peterson.
After the kickoff, he quickly moved his team to midfield with consecutive completions to Mapson. But the drive stalled after a Rockey May run gained 6 yards, then two more runs netted just 2 more yards. Wasatch faced a fourth-and-2 from its own 49 with 2:35 left in the game.
“We’re a dominant defense when we keep it simple and that was our mindset late in the game,” Thompson said. “During the game, we tried to do some exotic things and it got to us. But late in the game, we went back to the basics and plugged the holes and put pressure on them – that’s our winning formula.”
The Rev came out of a timeout and tried the option read play from the shotgun and it never had a chance. May was stuffed a full yard short of the first down and the Lions took over with 2:26 left.
Miller and Misi Tupe then combined to pick up a first down and enable Zion to run out the clock and secure the win.
“We had some players step up and make some big plays for us tonight,” Stott said. “We put little Michael Matalolo in on that TD pass. He’s a good receiver. We ran that play earlier in the game and saw they weren’t covering the back out of the backfield, so we went back to the well and it worked.”
It was Matalolo’s only touch of the game, but made him an instant hero among teammates, who referred to him as “MVP” after the game.
Miller led Zion with 58 rushing yards on nine carries (6.4 yards per carry). Fields had 181 passing yards and no interceptions. In fact, the Lions did not turn the ball over in the game. Wasatch had two lost fumbles. Clifton Smith ended up with a game-high 105 receiving yards. He made a spectacular one-handed 39-yard catch in the first half.
The Rev outgained Zion in total yards 286-257. Peterson was 12 for 18 for 165 passing yards and a TD.
The Lions improve to 2-0 on the year with the home win and will host the Las Vegas Cobras at PVHS next Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Rev, 1-1, play another road game at the Utah Wildcats next Saturday at 4 p.m.
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