The foundations for Kanab’s semi-final 1A win over Enterprise on Friday were realistically laid the week before when they survived Duchesne’s thwarted attempt in the quarter-finals to win by a single point.
Kanab beat Duchesne in the regular season, but beating the defending champions a second time proved much more difficult and almost didn’t happen.
For the Kanab players, the storyline was all the proof they needed to believe they could beat the Enterprise in the semifinals at Southern Utah University despite losing to Wolves earlier in the season.
“It helped me with the boys to help them understand how hard it is to beat a good team twice, we barely survived that one,” Kanab coach JR Quarnberg said.
“I told the kids that before the game it’s so hard to beat a good team twice, not that you want to lose the first one for sure, but we felt like a lot of things didn’t go our way in the first and we were right in the thick of it so we felt confident going in,” Quarnberg added.
To help reverse that scenario, Kanab’s coaches made a defensive bet that paid huge dividends as the Cowboys beat Enterprise 26-15 to advance to next Friday’s 1A State Championship against the head of series #1 Layton Christian in St. George.
Leading 12-7 at the break, Kanab extended the lead to 26-7 with some scoring early in the fourth quarter to put the game away and secure his place in the title game.
Quarnberg challenged his seniors this week to rise to the occasion and he believes that was one of the keys to victory.
“In those playoff games, and I told the seniors at the start of the week, those wins at this time of year a lot of times, they come on the shoulders of your seniors and they had to step up, and they did,” Quarnberg said.
Another key was the calculated risk of making a big defensive adjustment.
In the first meeting in September won by Enterprise, 22-14, Wolves rushed 260 yards and controlled the line of scrimmage. In the rematch, Kanab stacked the box to stop the run and challenged Wolves to win it in the air.
“We made some big changes in defense which was a risk, we debated whether we work on our basic stuff and simplify and do what we always do or do we make some changes, and we chose to make some changes defensively and we feel like they really helped us,” Quarnberg said.
As a team, Enterprise rushed for 155 yards Friday, down 105 yards from the previous game.
“We feel like we haven’t played our best defense in a few weeks and that shook us all up a bit, so it was great to play a good defensive game,” Quarnberg said.
Kanab’s coach was quick to add that his defense will need to be even better next week to try and slow down Layton Christian’s powerful rushing attack.
“Hopefully we can rally around this performance and play tough defense next week,” Quarnberg said.
Among the seniors who stepped up for Kanab in the semi-finals, one of the most notable was Derek Brown, who had never played football before this season. It started with a clutch grab late in the first half that helped Kanab regain a 12-7 halftime lead.
Parker Franklin gave Kanab a 6-0 lead at 2:24 of the second quarter on a two-yard score, but Enterprise responded quickly with a scoring drive that Kyron Bracken capped off with a 5-yard TD run for the lead 7-6 with 36 seconds left at halftime.
Thirty-six seconds is rarely enough for most 1A teams to organize a score, but Kanab found a way. A big kick return from Waylon White helped Kanab get into a decent position on the field, then Brown caught a 48-yard pass on the sideline, setting up his team with the first and the goal at the end. 5 yard line.
Griffen Bone hit it in two games later with four seconds left in halftime, a quick score that put Kanab back in the lead for good.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Brown had a fourth one-handed catch for a 20-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 19-7. Five minutes later, Kanab capitalized on Enterprise’s second fumble of the game on a 1-yard dive from Bone that put the game away, 26-7.