ST. GEORGE – Dropped passes early in the game cost the Zion Lions dearly. But a great catch late in the game saved the day as the Lions defeated the Utah Shock 22-20 Saturday night in the semifinals of the Rocky Mountain Football League playoffs at Pine View’s Panther Stadium.
“You have to have short term memory as a quarterback, they teach you that when you’re young,” Zion QB Diarra Fields said of the early dropsies from his receivers. “At the same time, you have to stay positive. I make mistakes, too. But I’m going to keep going to those guys because I know they’re going to make the plays when we need them.”
One of “those guys” was Justin Fulton, who dropped a touchdown pass in the first quarter. But with Zion facing a 20-16 deficit and under four minutes to play, Fulton beat double coverage and made a spectacular catch in the right corner of the end zone to give the Lions the lead and eventual winning margin.
“Diarra was on target all night long and on that throw, he threaded the needle,” Zion coach Dale Stott said. “He put it in a place where only his guy could catch it and Fulton made a nice grab.”
The TD hookup was a nice cap to a drive that featured Lions running back Prentiss Miller. The former Pine View Panther, playing on his high school field, rushed for 122 yards in the game, with 36 of those yards coming in that final ultimate drive.
“I love giving the ball to ‘P’,” said Stott, who coached Miller at Pine View. “I think he’s much better than he was in high school – he’s stronger. He’s a clutch player. He does so much with the football, plus we have a really good offensive line here.”
The TD strike to Fulton, from 27 yards out, was the only pass on the 69-yard drive and came with 4:34 left in the game. With that much time left, the Lions defense still had to make a stop if Zion was going to advance to the RMFL championship.
The Shock took possession at their 30-yard line and marched to the Zion 41. Facing a third-and-6, Shock QB Steven Vincent was chased to the left side by blitzing Zion linebacker Taris Schramm. Vincent spotted a receiver, but before he could release the ball, Schramm pounced on him for a 10-yard sack.
“Absolutely the play of the game, that was huge,” Stott said. “That one, and the safety he had in the third quarter. Taris Schramm has been a huge surprise for us. He’s a first-year player who leads the league in tackles and fumble recoveries. He just makes big plays. We’re really happy to have him.”
On fourth-and-long, Vincent’s deep pass was tipped away by Zion safety Dave Bishoff and the Lions were able to run out the clock and grab a spot in the RMFL title game.
The Shock, 3-4 on the year, played well in the searing heat against a Lions team that had beaten them by two touchdowns twice this season. For every punch Zion landed, the Utah Shock countered.
The Lions took a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter when Michael Matalolo faked a handoff to Miller and worked his way into the end zone from the wildcat formation. But just before halftime, Vincent found Sam Thomas for his second touchdown of the day on a 10-yard pass. That made it 13-7 at intermission.
The Lions drove for the lead midway through the third quarter, but the Shock stopped Fields on fourth-and-1 inside the 5-yard line to force a turnover on downs.
That’s when Schramm made his first big play of the night. The linebacker blitzed on the Shock’s first play after the turnover and sacked Vincent in the end zone to make it 13-9. Moments later, Fields found a wide open Clifton Smith for a 55-yard touchdown that made it 16-13 for Zion with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
Again, the Shock responded. Vincent led his team on an 80-yard drive that lasted for 13 plays. Thomas caught his third TD of the night on a 4-yard end zone fade that made it 20-16 with 8:25 left in the game.
That set up the final Miller-heavy drive that ended with the Fields-to-Fulton go-ahead score.
Miller ended up with 122 yards, with 93 of those coming after halftime.
“At halftime we all talked to coach and got the O-line together and we kind of thought we could run the ball on them,” said the 22-year-old Miller. “I try not to think too much about the past, but there was a little bit of a feeling of the glory days. It’s pretty fun playing on your old high school field.”
The Lions, 6-1, were right on their average of 182 yards a game rushing and finished with 294 yards overall. Fields had 112 passing and 31 on the ground, while Smith finished with three catches for 70 yards.
The Shock finished with 243 yards, with 220 of those coming through the air by Vincent. Thomas had 11 catches for 120 yards and three scores, while Graham Smith and Daniel Otteson had six catches each. The Shock running game averaged less than 1 yard per carry.
Zion moves on to a very familiar position: A place in the RMFL title game against the Wasatch Revolution (who beat the Utah Wildcats 41-0). Unfortunately for the Lions, that’s been a rather inhospitable place to be. Zion is 0-3 in the last three championship games vs. the Rev and 0-6 at Wasatch since Stott has taken over as coach.
“That’s something obviously we want to change,” Stott said. “We were playing without 13 of our players tonight, including Misi Tupe and Rimo Mapu. Hopefully we’ll be a little closer to full strength next week.”
Time and location are not set in stone yet, but the game will either be at the Ogden Spence Eccles Community Sports Complex or at Woods Cross High School next Saturday night.
RMFL Big South Playoffs
Zion Lions 22, Utah Shock 20
Wasatch Revolution 41, Utah Wildcats 0
Championship (at higher seed)
Zion Lions at Wasatch Revolution, 6 p.m., Ogden Spence Eccles Community Sports Complex
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