MONTICELLO—For the first time since Coach Patrick King crossed the Utah state border, the Gunnison Valley football team won their season opener.
The Bulldog’s offense looked more than ready to go in their first game as Gunnison took down Monticello, 42-28, on the road. The game ended up being the new season opener after last week’s forfeit by Whitehorse. The game was back and forth nearly from beginning to end as both squads showcased tremendous offensive discipline.
“We were excited to move the ball, and we expected Monticello to put up a good fight, which they did,” King said. “We had mistakes that we need to clean up…We were able to get in the end zone and control the situation the whole game.”
Senior quarterback Jack Hansen led all rushers with 104 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries while completing 6 of 11 passes for 148 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. Junior Jon Willden led all receivers, catching four passes for 76 yards and three touchdowns.
It took the Bulldogs all of three plays to score the first touchdown of the season, as Hansen completed a long pass to junior Bryson Sorensen for the touchdown. By the end of the first quarter, Gunnison had a 20-8 lead, with touchdowns scored by Sorensen, junior Jon Willden and sophomore Pearson Judy.
And that was all in the first quarter by a team that averaged 19 points per game last year.
Hansen threw an interception early in the second quarter, but a defensive stand by Gunnison kept the Buckaroos out of the end zone. Hansen repaid the debt with a 60-yard run that set up a touchdown run on a left side sweep by Sorensen for the three-score lead.
The Buckaroos got the ball back with about two minutes remaining for a final drive in the half, and with several improvised pass plays, they got another touchdown on the board after time expired, and Gunnison went into halftime ahead, 28-14.
After halftime, Gunnison stifled Monticello on offense again, but the Bulldogs experienced a shot of adversity as a muffed punt gave the Buckaroos possession right back, which turned into another touchdown, 28-22.
Late in the third, Willden caught another touchdown from 14 yards for a 34-22 lead, but Monticello wasn’t going away, answering with a 54-yard touchdown pass over the top of the Bulldog defense to bring it within six again.
Gunnison’s defense finally shored up in the fourth quarter and kept Monticello from scoring, but Gunnison couldn’t quite put them away until the Bulldogs had possession within the last five minutes.
Knowing how dangerous Monticello could be with the passing game, Gunnison kept to the ground to eat the clock and found themselves facing 3rd-and-13 with two minutes remaining, prompting a timeout by King.
With backs against the wall, Hansen once again connected with Willden on a slip screen on the left side, and Willden took off, riding through blockers en route to a 45-yard touchdown to ice the game.
“One thing that you need to do to be elite is eliminate excuses,” King said. “There were a lot of excuses where we could have said, ‘Let’s get on the bus and go home, things are over,’ when you just find a way to win. That’s when good things happen.”
Gunnison’s 42 points were only the second game with 40 plus points scored during King’s three-year tenure, the former also coming against Monticello last year.
The Bulldogs play their home opener against Rich this Friday at 7 p.m.