ST. GEORGE – The debut of the Zion Lions football team did not disappoint the hometown fans. In a game where the Lions dominated the visiting Vegas Hawks on both sides of the ball, Zion cruised to a 62-6 victory at the Dixie Sun Bowl.
“Our defense did a magnificent job,” said Lions head coach Dale Stott. “Our offense barely got on the field in the second half. They put up some big numbers in the first half though.” The Lions defense scored two touchdowns. Adding a special teams touchdown to the mix did indeed limit the offensive possession time for the Lions.
“I was particularly impressed with two newcomers,” said Coach Stott. “Ryne Wall showed great athleticism. He had a huge kickoff return for a touchdown and later added a pick-six.”
Coach Stott also had praise for newcomer Finau Lomu. “He is so quick and is good at making you miss. Our return game will help us tremendously with (Lomu and Wall) receiving kicks.”
Lomu returned the Hawks first punt for 52 yards to set Zion up on the Vegas 23-yard line. Three plays later Misi Tupe’s five-yard run around the left end put the Lions up a touchdown with seven minutes gone in the game.
After another punt by the Hawks, Tupe took the offense 75 yards for the score. The touchdown came on a 22-yard pass to wide receiver Tanner Wood. The PAT pass failed and the Lions led 13-0.
The Lion defense held Vegas to a third consecutive four-down and out drive on the next possession. This time the Hawks turned over the ball on downs rather than punting. Two plays later, Tupe found wide receiver Dalton Groskreutz with a 47-yard pass that found paydirt. Kicker Rob Nadalsky’s PAT made it 20-0 before the first quarter had expired.
After forcing a turnover to start the second quarter, Zion’s offense was on the move again. The Hawks held them to a 23-yard Eric Brooksby field goal attempt that went wide right. On the Lions next possession, Tupe threw his only interception to stall the drive. The defense again shut down any possibility of a Hawk drive and Tupe would make amends on the next Lion possession. Tupe capped a 39-yard drive with a 28-yard run off tackle. Nadalsky’s extra point put the Lions up 27-0.
Vegas finally made some noise on its next possession. On a second and 4, quarterback Willie Brisco found Xavier Trevino. Trevino had gotten past the Lion corner on an out-and-up and hauled in the pass and avoided a hard-charging Wall to score the 67-yard touchdown. The failed two-point conversion brought the score to 27-6 shortly before halftime.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wall returned the ball left before cutting back to the right and ran back the ball 88 yards to deflate the Hawks shortly before intermission. Nadalsky’s PAT brought the halftime score to 34-6.
In the second half, Stott played many of his reserve players. The first touchdown scored in the second half was by free safety Wall on an interception returned for touchdown.
“We were in a cover two,” said Wall. “(Brisco) simply overthrew his receiver. I was able to get some great blocks from my teammates and get to the end zone.”
The Zion defense had the next touchdown as well when Brandon Thompson recovered a Brisco fumble caused by Vince Feula and ran the ball back for the score. Nick Hafen kicked the PAT to give the Lions a 48-6 lead.
The Lions would score twice more in the fourth quarter. The first came as backup quarterback Nadalsky found tight end Jordan Loo on a 5-yard out. The last score of the night was a 14-yard run by Michael Matalolo to bring the final score to 62-6.
Tupe finished the game with 94 yards passing and 117 yards on the ground. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more. Ty Matavao and Sione Tapuosi ran for 70 and 59 yards, respectively.
As a team, the Lions gained 337 yards on the ground and 99 through the air. They limited Hawks quarterback Willie Brisco to 147 yards passing. Brisco came into the game averaging over 300 yards passing per game. The Hawks offense also had -2 yards rushing for the game.
“The Hawks are an expansion team in their league,” said Stott. “They are definitely talented. When they get more experience and chemistry, they will be a much better football team.”
The Lions will host the Utah Cobras next Saturday. Game time will be 7 p.m. at the Sun Bowl.
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