ST. GEORGE – With a shifty new quarterback and stars like Prentiss Miller and Clifton Smith, it’s easy to give all the glory to the Zion Lions offense. But sometimes the defense steals the spotlight.
“A shutout is what we aim for every game,” said Lions linebacker Isaac Katoa. “It’s always fun to come out with guys that we’ve played with for years and perform at this kind of level. For us defensive guys, our intention is to come out and take guys’ heads off. Sometimes it gets hard when we are leading by so much at the end of the games, but when it comes down to it, we just want to have fun and make sure we come out with the win.”
Zion’s coaching staff was shuffled in the offseason, with Tommy Semmens taking over the play calling on offense and head coach Dale Stott moving to the defensive side of the ball. The switch has been working to near perfection so far as the Lions have outscored their two opponents 118-14 in the first two games.
“It’s a switch for me, for sure,” Stott said. “I’ve been an offensive line coach my whole career, so it’s a little different to switch the chess board, but I like it. It’s actually fun for me and we have a great group of guys with a lot of depth, so I have a lot of toys to play with.”
Former rugby stars like Taris Schramm, who led the league in tackles last season, also help. The Zion defense was smothering. The Wildcats had only one sustained drive all game. They actually moved the ball from their own 26 to the Lions 33 to start the second half before turning the ball over on downs. The rest of their drives were all less than 20 yards and usually ended in a punt.
“We have great coaches that not only take care of us as a team, but also take care of us individually so that we’re set to perform at our highest level every week,” Katoa said. “And on top of that, we have a brotherhood and a relationship between us players that we feel like we can rely on each other and trust each other to do our jobs.”
The Wildcats finished with 83 yards on 50 offensive plays – an average of just 1.62 yards per offensive play. The defense even scored a touchdown itself when Mike Kauvaka intercepted a Wildcats pass and ran it back 58 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
So the defense was exceptional, but the offense wasn’t bad either. Zion opened the game with a 14-play, 57-yard drive that ended in a 17-yard touchdown run by Miller. The drive took more than six minutes off the clock and made it 7-0 with 5:34 left in the opening quarter.
The defense then forced a three-and-out and Shaquille Patterson returned the Wildcat punt 28 yards to the Utah 37-yard line. Saitaua Lefau took his turn at running back and carried the Lions into the end zone on just four plays. Lefau’s fourth straight run was a 2-yard plunge that made it 14-0 late in the first quarter.
After another Wildcats punt, Zion quarterback Michael Matalolo came out firing on the next drive. He completed passes to Justin Fulton and Clifton Smith, with Smith pulling in a fade in the end zone from 17 yards out to make it 21-0 early in the second quarter. The lead grew to 28-0 moments later when Matalolo completed a TD pass to Andrew Simanu.
After the Wildcats put that one drive together in the third quarter, Zion took over at its own 39-yard line. Matalolo handed to Miller for a short gain on first down, but faked the handoff to Miller on second down and scampered around the left side for 54 yards. On the next play, Matalolo hit Brandon Thompson in the right flat for a 5-yard TD to make it 35-0.
The Lions’ final two TDs came on Kauvaka’s interception return and a 14-yard run by Patterson in the fourth quarter.
Zion outgained the Wildcats 307-83 and had 17 first downs to nine for Utah. Matalolo led the Lions with 84 rushing yards and he completed 6 of 10 passes for 75 yards and three TDs.
The Lions (2-0) play their first road game next week at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas where they’ll take on the Vegas Trojans. The Trojans are one of Zion’s new rivals in the new South West Football League. The Wildcats, 0-2, also travel to Las Vegas to take on the Vegas Hawks.
The Lions return home to Panther Stadium in two weeks to take on arch-enemy Wasatch Revolution. Game time is 7 p.m.
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