ST. GEORGE — It was over after the first play.
Crimson Cliffs senior Ty West catches a touchdown pass against Green Canyon in the 4A state football championship game, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 17, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
Quarterback Steele Barben threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Ty West on the Mustangs’ first snap on offense and Crimson Cliffs cruised to a 33-0 victory over Green Canyon in the 4A Utah state football championship game.
Conditions couldn’t have been better Friday morning at a sunny and warm Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Green Canyon (10-4) rode to the final game on the strength of its defense, but it was the defenders from Crimson Cliffs (13-1) that really seized the moment in the shutout win.
“All four years of my high school, we’ve been dreaming of this day. All of us have played together since the third grade, and this has been our dream, is to get a state championship,” defensive lineman Parker Andrus told St. George News.
“Even better our senior year,” Andrus said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Crimson Cliffs set the tone immediately.
After Caiden Garcia-Casey returned the opening kickoff to the 27-yard line, the Mustangs lined up and called their shot.
Barben lofted the ball down the field, a wide-open West ran under it and collected the touchdown bomb for a 7-0 Crimson lead 16 seconds into the contest.
“We’ve been planning on that for a little bit,” West said. “We just came out here and we were seeing what coverage they were going to run, and then that’s what we ended up doing.”
Green Canyon had barely started its ensuing first possession before the Mustangs defense forced a fumble, recovered by senior Brock Baker.
Crimson Cliffs senior Luke Childs catches a touchdown pass against Green Canyon in the 4A state football championship game, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 17, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
That was just the beginning of the harassment of Wolves quarterback Payton Wilson, who finished with 155 passing yards and an interception. He was sacked three times.
“Their quarterback is such a stud, our focus was on him,” Mustangs junior linebacker McKay Wright said. Wright had a game-high nine tackles in the win, including a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss.
After the turnover, Crimson ran up-tempo offense and McCord Christiansen moved the ball on two runs. Malakai Alofipo got a break when a deflected pass fell right into his hands for a first down.
A pass to West moved Crimson down to the 2-yard line, then Christiansen barreled into the house and the Mustangs led 14-0 at the 7:07 mark of the first quarter.
Green Canyon’s offense was playing catch-up from that point on. Only five teams in championship game history recovered from a 14-0 deficit and won.
Both team defenses settled down and came up with multiple stops going through most of the second quarter.
But then on a Green Canyon fourth down, a bad snap led to Kaden Haws and Braysen Phillips tackling the Wolves punter in the end zone for a safety and Crimson took a 16-0 lead going into halftime.
Adversity struck the Mustangs early in the third quarter when senior Scott Nisson, one of their rocks on the defensive line, was injured on a running play and had to be carted off the field.
“It was a big moment for us,” coach Wayne Alofipo said. “Scott’s a leader for this team and he’s a passionate young man that literally will leave everything on the field.”
Crimson Cliffs senior Steele Barben throws a touchdown pass against Green Canyon in the 4A state football championship game, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 17, 2023 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News
“I’m just proud of Scott,” Alofipo said. “ He gave a speech as they wheeled him off, he said, please go win this and lay it all out there like he did. And these young men did that.”
The Mustangs defense held after Nisson’s injury, getting the ball back to the Mustangs offense. Barben connected with West on a second touchdown pass, this one a 3-yard strike, and Crimson was ahead for good 23-0 at 5:28 of the third quarter.
A little less than three minutes later Barben found Luke Childs for a 30-yard score and Crimson upped its advantage to 30-0.
“I don’t have words. It just feels amazing. I love this team,” Barben said. The senior signal caller finished with 295 passing yards, connecting on 22-of-27 attempts including three touchdowns.
“They’re amazing. I love each and every one of these boys,” Barben added. Along with offensive coordinator Andy Stokes, several of the Mustangs dyed their hair red for the title game.
Mustangs kicker Ty Ottenschott provided the final margin with his 19-yard field goal with two minutes remaining in the contest.
Alofipo credited the team’s outstanding defensive performance all season to its seniors.
“These young men are so special,” Alofipo said. “Ten senior starters on this defense. That’s the type of performance we would expect from them in this type of situation. We’re super proud of them for stepping up to the plate and executing at a high level.”
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