Vail Christian falls to defending state champions in 8-man playoffs
Vail Christian ended the season with a 6-4 record after losing to Dove Creek 54-34
Colton Fury threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more to lead Dove Creek over Vail Christian 54-34 in the first-round of the Class A 8-man state football playoffs last Saturday.
“It was a good season,” Saints head coach Tim Pierson stated after his team ended the year with a 6-4 record. “Anytime you’re in the playoffs, that’s a good thing.”
The No. 5-seeded Bulldogs jumped out to a 36-20 halftime lead on the No. 12 Saints, but the Saints fought back. A 71-yard touchdown pass from Asher Morris to Owen Koontz made it 42-34 with 34 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Despite the loss, Pierson left proud of his team’s never-quit attitude.
“We had a really good third quarter. Coming back was huge — the kids showed a lot of resilience,” he said. “I’m proud of the way they went down there and competed.”
Fury scored on a 30-yard scamper halfway through the fourth and Taber Dejane scored his third touchdown of the game on a 30-yard score with 2:15 remaining to put the 2022 state champions ahead for good. Morris led the Saints with four touchdown passes and one score on the ground.
Support Local Journalism
“He put up really impressive numbers, both running and passing,” Pierson said before praising the sophomore for his “coachability” and “leadership.”
“I’m excited to see what will unfold over the next couple of years because he has a good junior class ahead of him.”
Morris’ favorite target Saturday — and the whole year — was senior Will Neumann, who had two first-half touchdown catches and a third in the third quarter. Neumann led the Saints with 80.4 yards receiving per game and 71.8 on the ground through the first five games of the season.
“He was a great player this year. He played out of his mind as far as a playmaker (and) scorer on offense,” Pierson said. “He’s a three-year starter for us, so that’s going to be a tough loss. Saying goodbye to all our seniors is going to be tough.”
Still, the longtime coach — who surpassed 100-career wins last fall — believes the Saints’ future is optimistic. Along with Morris, Vail Christian returns sophomore center Colt Burkley, who earned the starting role halfway through the season, and junior Maddox Shull at guard.
“He showed great development on the offensive line and defensive line,” Pierson said of Shull. “So, that part of our offensive line being intact is huge for us. And then from there, filling in the pieces as we see how kids develop over the off-season. You see growth each year in a student athlete.”
This year, five former Battle Mountain athletes joined the Saints.
“I think it was kind of a learning curve for us as coaches to kind of figure out how the puzzle pieces would all fit together,” Pierson said. A 2-2 start was followed by three-straight wins over Plateau Valley (52-6), Hayden (58-30) and Soroco (67-14). But on Oct. 20, Vail Christian dropped its first league game in three years, falling to West Grand 44-14.
“We still had a pretty good league season and we’re proud of that,” Pierson said of the 4-1 mark in A-8 League 2 play.
As the postseason approached, his reminder in the locker room was that “players make plays.”
“And we definitely had some playmakers out there,” he said. “In playoff games, a lot of it does come down to who is going to make those plays and who is going to execute. I think overall we’re pleased with how it went. Definitely would want some games over again, but you don’t get those do-overs. But I do think there’s life lessons in all of it.”
After what he described as the “heightened emotional environment” of the Dove Creek game, Pierson recognized the theme of 2023 as being about “a band of brothers.”
“It’s just a bunch of guys coming together, working towards a common goal. Their resiliency in that last game – keep battling back, keep battling back — we had to go in there and battle,” he said. “Guys playing for the guy next to him. Great friendships, great memories — good group of guys. I think there’s that brotherly bond of community type of thing and playing for each other.”