ST. GEORGE – The Zion Lions earned a satisfying victory over an old rival Saturday night as they beat the Wasatch Revolution 34-14 at Panther Stadium. And even though the circumstances have changed a lot, the win was still a gratifying one.
It was a rematch from last year’s Rocky Mountain Football League championship game, but in a lot of ways it wasn’t. Both teams left the RMFL in the offseason to join the newly created South West Football League. The Lions have had a changing of the guard with the retirement of longtime leader and star Misi Tupe. And the Rev have practically a new roster after adding players from several northern teams to form a sort of Northern Utah all-star squad.
But even with the evolution of both teams, it was still a good, old-fashioned Lions-Rev battle.
“It’s always good to beat those guys,” Zion coach Dale Stott said. “They’ve got a lot of players that have come from the Shock and the Vipers. It’s a little bit of an all-star team. We had a little motivation coming in because the Wildcats coach called and told me that the Rev were the best semipro team he had ever seen. He said he’d be surprised if we didn’t lose by three touchdowns.”
The Wildcats coach was wrong. Very wrong. The Lions scored 22 unanswered points and forced four Wasatch interceptions in rolling to the 20-point victory.
Zion came out – surprise – throwing the football. The plan worked as Wasatch was obviously thinking about how to stop the run on the first play from scrimmage for the Zion offense. Quarterback Michael Matalolo faked the read play and looked up top, where he found cousin and wideout Saitaua Lefau 3 yards beyond his defender for a 64-yard touchdown pass. The post pattern was wide open.
“I guess I’m a nobody. I’m the new guy and I guess they didn’t expect that,” Lefau said. “Just the new guy running down the field wide open. I think it just shocked everybody around here.”
The Rev made some noise of their own by blocking the extra point and then putting a drive together of their own. Branche Deangelo capped an 80-yard drive that included two 15-yard defensive penalties with a 4-yard run to give Wasatch a 7-6 lead midway through the first quarter.
After the Lions turned the ball over on downs, Taris Schramm made the first big defensive play of the game. The Zion linebacker stepped in front of Wasatch quarterback Jeff Wissler’s pass down the middle and picked it off. One broken tackle later and Schramm was dancing in the end zone with a 30-yard interception return for a TD. Again, the PAT was blocked, but the Lions held a 12-7 lead as the first quarter expired.
“I’m very proud of my defense,” Stott said. “They made things difficult for Wasatch to move the ball and also picked off some passes.”
The Revolution made another push, taking a 74-yard drive to the house in just under five minutes. Zac Geurts rushed it in from 7-yards out, bowling over a defender at the goal line, to make it 14-12. Levine Tupe had a long pass catch to set up the score and fans were settling into what looked like a barnburner.
But that would be the last highlight for Wasatch. The Lions put together a seven-plus minute drive to grab a 20-14 lead when Matalolo and Lefau hooked up again, this time from 30-yards out with 2:46 left in the first half.
“Lefau’s my little cousin,” Matalolo said. “We’ve been training together the past two or three years and we’ve been playing together almost our whole lives. There’s a lot of trust that goes into this game and I trust him 100 percent. I’ll throw it to him whenever I’m in trouble and I know he’ll make a play for me.”
Wasatch tried to respond, but ended up giving the ball back to the Lions just 55 seconds later. Zion used the last two minutes perfectly, with Matalolo directing a quick drive that culminated in a 14-yard TD pass to Justin Fulton with 31.7 second left in the half. A two-point conversion pass from Matalolo to Andrew Seumanu made it 27-14 at halftime.
In the second half, Zion picked Wissler off three more times, including once in the end zone. The only TD after intermission was a Matalolo pass to Brandon Thompson from 37-yards out early in the fourth quarter.
“I wasn’t on the team last year, but I could tell something was different about this game,” Lefau said. “Usually it’s really loud in the locker room before games. But it was quiet today and I looked around and I was like, ‘OK, this is the one. I get it.’ You could tell this was a big game.”
Matalolo finished with a career-best 11 for 19 passing for 206 yards and four touchdowns, with just one interception. He also rushed for 57 yards as the Lions outgained the Rev 325-217. Lefau finished with five catches for 125 yards and two scores. Wasatch had one long drive in the second half, but the Zion defense intercepted a fourth-quarter pass in the end zone to end the threat.
Zion improves to 4-0 on the season and will host the Vegas Hawks next Saturday at 7 p.m. at Panther Field. Vegas is also unbeaten thus far in 2018. Wasatch drops to 2-1.
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