By Matt Harris | If there are any definite promises about what is expected to be an epic matchup in Kanab, Utah, tomorrow, it’s that fans are going to see some old-school football.
We’re talking some leather-helmet, “haven’t-quite-invented-the-forward-pass” level old-school football.
As the undefeated Beaver Beavers travel to take on the undefeated Kanab Cowboys tonight, the game plan is the same for both the undefeated Beaver Beavers and the undefeated Kanab Cowboys: stop the run and get your own rush going.
Beaver and Kanab’s offensive and defensive play styles are almost mirror images of each other, as each team averages over 300 yards rushing per game between multiple carriers and throws under 12 passes per game. Neither team has attempted more than 13 throws in a game this season. Essentially, tonight’s game comes down to who runs the Wing T offense with greater prowess.
It’s no secret how big this game is for both teams. As the dueling powers of the 2A South region, the two teams have their opportunities to make a gargantuan playoff statement a few weeks before the playoffs begin.
“This game’s pretty much the region championship,” Kanab head coach JR Quarnberg said. “Both teams are undefeated. It’s exciting, and our kids are excited to be able to play in a game like that.”
“It’s exciting to be playing a team here in Week 8 that’s undefeated, that’s been having a lot of success and been playing very well,” Beaver head coach Jon Marshall said.
The upcoming rumble in Kane County pits the top two squads in Utah, according to MaxPreps.com 2A Utah rankings. Beaver is the undisputed No. 1 team in 2A no matter who you ask, with the Cowboys taking the second or third spot in every poll.
For most of the season, no one has seriously questioned Beaver’s dominion over the 2A ranks. The Beavers score the ball better than any other team in the state at 51.8 points per game and couple it with the second-best defense in 2A, allowing exactly seven points per game. Only the 3A Grantsville Cowboys have put more than 10 points on the Beavers.
Beaver’s hard commitment to the ground attack has shown an aptitude this season to do a lot more than simply wear teams down in the trenches. Dominance on the offensive line and running back committee has often lured opposing secondaries into ignoring Beaver’s receivers at the most opportune moments. That leaves passing targets wide open for a deceptively capable quarterback. Beaver peeled off an easy victory last week against a solid Enterprise team. They won 52-3 and senior Treyson Hunter threw for three touchdowns, bringing his total to 13 on the season plus his five rushing scores. When combined with only two interceptions, it makes Hunter statistically the deadliest quarterback in 2A. He is third in overall passing yardage in 2A.
After returning most of their roster from the 2019 championship team, Beaver has passed with flying colors. Despite games against Grantsville, Milford, and Enterprise, the Beavers have never beaten an opponent by less than 22 points.
And after all that, there’s the tiny little fact that they haven’t lost in 20 games.
Marshall is in his fourth year coaching the Beavers and has compiled a 38-6 overall record.
On the other side of the field stands a brand new face to the high school coaching world. Coach Quarnberg took the reins of the Kanab program after the retirement of 17-year coaching veteran Bucky Orton. Orton won two state titles with the Cowboys and kept them relevant year in and year out. Now, every single member of Quarnberg’s coaching staff, including himself, is a former player in Orton’s program.
Kanab’s team was gutted in more than just the coaching staff before the season began. The Cowboys graduated 17 of their 22 starters, and only brought back two starters on offense. Deseret News polls predicted Kanab to finish second to last in the 2A south.
Boy, were they wrong.
Kanab treated viewers to an absolute firestorm of a win over Monticello, 70-0, in the first week of play. They followed it up with a 42-6 shellacking of Rich, and then held their next three opponents to zero combined points. The Cowboys’ second-place status in the 2A South for now isn’t much more than a point differential.
Kanab’s offense currently ranks third in 2A at 31.6 points per game. Five different players have rushed for over 100 yards, and those five have combined for 18 touchdowns. As well, sophomore tight end Kason Janes has caught seven of the Cowboys’ nine passing touchdowns.
The scoring has slowed down since the opening weeks of the season, and the defense has begun to give up some points, but the Cowboys still maintain the top scoring defense in 2A, just edging out Beaver at 6.3 points allowed per game. Were it not for an extremely furious comeback bid by North Sevier just two weeks ago where Kanab allowed three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Quarnberg’s defense would be looking just about impenetrable this late in the season.
Both Quarnberg and Marshall know the key to this matchup comes down to defense. If this game turns into a track meet (and I use this witty figure of speech knowing I’m writing about run-based offenses), Quarnberg said that his team will be “fighting an uphill battle.”
“Our best chance to be in the game and be able to win the game is to slow them down,” Quarnberg said. “which no one’s been able to do, really.”
If Kanab can put together a gameplan that keeps the game close enough to unseat the Beavers, football fans may be looking at one of the biggest upsets in the last several years. However, in order for Beaver to win this game, it would appear that all they have to do is not deviate from what they’ve been doing all season long.
Despite Beaver coming in as a clear and distinct favorite to win, Kanab has a handful of good cards in their hand to play against the visiting team tonight. Not only does Kanab field the statistically better defense, but the Cowboys are better at getting to the quarterback than Beaver is, recording 21.5 sacks this season, including 8 sacks against an air-raid offense in Milford.
Kanab’s coaching staff is also mentored in part by former Kanab head coach Dwaine Hatch, who spent the last several years mentoring the Beavers before returning to oversee the development of the new-look Cowboys.
Thirdly for Kanab, they’ll be sporting the healthier lineup. As reported by Marshall, junior Turner Williams and senior EJ Allred are both out with injuries. Allred was one of the state’s rushing touchdown leaders with ten total, while Williams was the leading rusher in yardage. Seniors Crayton Hollingshead and Brighton Langston are filling in.
Friday will prove one of two things by the end of the night. Either Beaver is truly not going to be stopped in 2020, or Quarnberg and his staff of Kanab are the next big thing.
With Beaver a bit more hobbled than earlier this season, my confidence in Marshall’s squad has fallen a bit. By a bit, I mean it’s gone from 99 percent down to 96. The Beavers rarely even have a disappointing possession, much less a game. We’re talking about a team that most power rankings predict would be lighting up teams in Salt Lake County if given the chance.
Kanab is a great team that is wildly outperforming their expectations, but close games against North Sevier and Milford the last two weeks make this team look awfully fallible at a bad time.
Beaver’s going to win this one, but I will expect Kanab to be the first team this season to keep Marshall from putting 40 points on the board. The only problem is Beaver’s going to bury the Kanab offense to the point where no amount of defense can compensate.
Beaver – 38 Kanab – 13
Streaming will be available for this game on CentraCom Channel 10, online at local10.tv.