ST. GEORGE — The old adage about the only stat that matters is the final score was never more appropriate than Saturday night as the Brigham Sting stunned the Zion Lions 10-7 to open the Rocky Mountain Football League season at the Dixie Sunbowl.
Zion dominated just about every aspect of the semi-pro football game Saturday night — rushing yardage, passing yardage, first downs, third-down conversions, etc. — but a defensive touchdown by Alphonso Thompson and field goal set up by another turnover proved to be enough points for the stingy Brigham defense.
And there was one stat category the Sting truly won.
“It’s hard to win when you commit five turnovers,” said Lions coach Dale Stott.
“Turnovers are going to happen when you have new quarterbacks and it happened tonight. Certainly we need to do a better job with taking care of the ball.”
Brigham Sting coach James Eyre said his defense has worked hard and the turnover advantage is a product of that.
“Our defense is good this year — we picked up a lot of new guys and we’re good on defense,” he said. “We struggled bad on offense. They way outhit us, but our defense was amazing.”
Eyre, whose team was not picked among the top three teams in the league and was beaten pretty badly by the Lions in the playoffs last year (30-7), said the win should send a message to the rest of the league.
“This is probably the biggest upset that this league’s had in years and years,” he said. “In my opinion, the Lions are the best team in our league, even though they haven’t won the championship the past two years. They’re the most solid team we’ve got in this league and it took everything we had.”
As Stott mentioned, the Lions were breaking in a new quarterback in Josh Ford. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder struggled in his debut, completing just 5 of 18 passes for 66 yards, with three interceptions. He did rush for 54 yards out of the spread, but also coughed the ball up on a fumble.
“This is the first game ever in his career as a quarterback,” Stott said. “He’s a tremendous player and I thought he did well in many aspects of the game, but it’s a big adjustment to game time from practice, when nobody hits you and it’s just not full speed.”
The Lions, using Misi Tupe at QB in the second half, were able to punch in their only score with 8:16 left in the game as Tupe scrambled around the right side from a yard out. Zion got the ball back three minutes later, but turned it over on downs. The Sting were able to run the clock down under two minutes before surrendering it again to Zion. But with 90 yards to go, the Lions offense sputtered and Brigham was able to take over on downs and kill the clock.
Zion out-gained Brigham 245-98 in total yardage and the first down differential was 16-4. The Sting were 0 for 15 on third downs in the game. But those turnovers were huge.
The Zion defense forced a punt on Brigham’s first possession and Ford led the Lions on a nice drive after the kick. A 13-yard pass to Bailey Glass and an 18-yard scramble by Ford got the Lions inside the Brigham red zone. But Ford threw his first interception of the game on the next play to keep the game scoreless.
Again the Lions defense held, but Brigham punter Jordan Beyer shanked the punt, giving Zion great field position at the Sting 35-yard line. On the very next play, Ford overthrew his target and Thompson picked the ball off and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown. Thompson broke a half-dozen tackles on his way to the score, including a diving attempt by Ford.
After the kickoff, Ford threw his third pick of the first quarter on a third-down try, with Muhammed Miller snagging the errant pass. He returned it 27 yard to the Lions 8-yard line, setting up a Beyers field goal that made it 10-0.
Twice more in the first half, Zion got the ball inside the Brigham 20, but the first time the Lions turned it over on downs and the second time Ford lost a fumble fighting for yardage at the Sting 18-yard line.
“You know, I’m O.K. with the loss in that I’d rather lose the first one than the last one,” Stott said. “Our defense played awesome. Playing Misi on D was a thing of beauty. You know, defense is a little easier to plug-and-play players. The offseason has been a little hectic with a lot of key players being gone offensively. But defensively tonight, I was very proud of their effort. They kept us in the game.”
Boy did they, as Brigham didn’t have one sustained drive in the entire contest. In fact, the Sting didn’t complete a pass until the last four minutes of the fourth quarter (Sting QB Jordan Wager was 1 for 12 for 12 yards). The Sting averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per play.
“Defense scored all our points tonight,” Eyre said. “Alphonso Thompson and Andrew Robinson were huge in the game. This is a big win for us.”
Glass emerged as a rising star at wide receiver for the Lions. He caught four passes for 61 yards. But the Lions running game, which was the scourge of the league last year in averaging more than 200 yards a contest, had just 142 yards and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry.
The Lions will look to rebound from the upset loss, but not for two weeks as they have a bye next week. Zion will host the Vegas Hawks Apr. 16 at the Dixie Sunbowl at 7 p.m.
The Sting are back in action next week with a road game at the Utah Shock at Kearn High School. Kickoff is 4 p.m.
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