PLEASANT GROVE — Kaden Moon couldn’t believe it.
Five yards from the end zone and no Rich High defender near him, the Duchesne running back fumbled the ball after a fourth-down reception.
The walk-in touchdown should’ve given Duchesne the early lead in Saturday’s 1A state championship, but after Moon’s uncharacteristic fumble it remained scoreless.
The miscue merely delayed the inevitable, however. Moon regrouped to score two touchdowns and finish with 117 rushing yards to lead Duchesne to an easy 28-0 win over rival Rich for the school’s third straight state title.
The win also extended Duchesne’s win streak to 34, two shy of tying Timpview’s state record of 36.
“It’s not easy. There’s a lot of hard work into it. No. 1, you have to be blessed with good kids and we have been, but that’s not all of it. The kids have to buy in and work hard,” said head coach Jerry Cowan.
Defense was the catalyst all season, and that was again the case Saturday. A few plays after Moon put Duchesne ahead 7-0 with a 38-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, McKade Nielsen returned a fumble 51 yards to extend the lead to 14-0.
Nielsen’s return was the eighth defensive touchdown of the season for Duchesne, and the fourth in the past two weeks.
“A lot of us seniors, we knew it was our last game and we came out and played like it. I’m really proud of our guys. Wade Shephard made plays every other snap. I’m so proud,” said Nielsen.
Duchesne held Rich to just 145 yards of total offense, with 60 yards coming on a meaningless drive in the final two minutes of the game. Jesus Pena made strong contributions at nose tackle despite playing with a torn ACL.
“Literally, the kid has an appointment to get surgery. That tells you kind of kids we have. He didn’t want to miss it,” said Cowan.
Having lost to Duchesne 40-14 earlier this season, Rich knew it needed to play a perfect game to pull off the upset. Many of those hopes were dashed just three offensive plays into the game when the Rebels’ 1,000-yard rusher, Kaden Thomson, sprained his ankle after being tackled out of bounds.
Without Thomson’s speed on the outside, Rich couldn’t get anything going the rest of the way.
“We’ve had a great defensive season. We’ve shut a few teams out, and we wanted to prove how good we can be and shut out Rich again,” said Moon.
With Duchesne comfortably ahead 14-0 at the half, Moon and quarterback Trent Roberts added rushing touchdowns in the third quarter to extend the lead to 28-0. The Eagles could’ve added another score late in the game, but Rich’s defense showed a lot of grit to come up with a fourth-and-goal stand.
When it was all said and done, Rich ran into an unstoppable buzz saw as Duchesne won every game this season by double digits. Nielsen doesn’t see the dynasty ending anytime soon.
“I know it means a lot to us seniors, but this junior class and sophomores aren’t done — they’ll keep it rolling next year. They work hard and they’ll be just as good next year,” said Nielsen, who also added 60 receiving yards and an interception in his last high school football game.
If things go as Nielsen expects, Duchesne will have a chance to tie Timpview’s state record 36-game winning streak in Week 2 next season and break it in Week 3. Until then, the Eagles will savor another title.
“It never gets old. It’s awesome. It’s fun to win every game, and championships top it off. It’s the best thing,” said Moon
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company