Two kickoff returns for touchdowns sink Pioneers

by:  JAIME VALDEZ  - Sandy receiver Austin Gorski reaches through the arms of Rex Putnam Kingsmen defenders Joey Cardinal, 81, and Taylor Lewis, 44, into the end zone for a touchdown. The Pioneers lost 28-27 to Putnam last Friday.

They watched as DeShawn Stephens ran away with the Pioneers’ joy. After an entire half of being stonewalled, they finally broke through — a 31-yard touchdown run by quarterback Justin Adams gave Sandy a late fourth quarter lead.

But the relief of scoring was gone as fast as it came when Stephens returned the ensuing kickoff more than 90 yards for a touchdown, the second kickoff return for a touchdown in the game. That was the deciding score in a 28-27 loss to Rex Putnam last Friday at Rex Putnam High School, and despite the bitter ending, Sandy’s heads didn’t hang.

“We played a great game,” Adams said. “Things just didn’t fall our way. We gave them two kickoff returns for touchdowns. You take away that and the little mistakes we have here and there, and that’s a blowout for us.

“They’re a good team, but I think we had that game. We played better than them today.”

Undoubtedly, it was the Pioneers’ best performance through three games this season.

From the effort to the execution, there were plenty of moral victories — and both sides of the ball had opportunities to shine.

After the offense carried Sandy into halftime, defense dictated the tone of the second half. Neither team scored until there was 5:10 left in the fourth.

The defense kept Putnam off the board during its first five possessions in the second half. Those were critical stands with the Kingsmen doing the same to Sandy.

And inside the red zone, Sandy came up with several stops, including Putnam’s fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak at the Pioneers’ 12-yard line midway through the third quarter.

by: JAIME VALDEZ  - Sandy Pioneers senior wide receiver Blake Robision makes a leaping reception over a Putnam defender last Friday.

With both sides at a stalemate as the clock neared triple-zero, something needed to change; one team needed to “want it.”

“Our intensity just picked up 100 percent there,” Adams said. “We wanted it. We want a win.”

Starting at their own 22-yard line with 9:55 left in the game, the Pioneers’ offense took the ball and took control.

The running game, which had been stagnant through two games, was dominant, regardless of who was carrying the ball. A long run by Kyle Bateman brought the ball to midfield, and Michael Daffron followed with a 22-yard gain, taking Sandy deep into Putnam territory.

Adams eventually would run it in and put the Pioneers ahead 27-21 with 5:10 to play.

Stephens was Putnam’s one-man answer, giving his team a one-point lead.

Sandy drove the ball down field again, setting up a 37-yard field goal, which fell short of the uprights.

“We did pretty well,” said wide receiver Blake Robison, who had two touchdown catches and an interception, which set up Sandy’s first score of the game. “We had more fire than last week — we were pretty flat then. We did everything we could. We just needed to finish it off.”

Many players said their week two loss to Wilson was a step backward. None of that talk existed after this loss, though. It was clear this was a step forward.

The offensive line, which has showed its youth in the first two games, looked stellar against the Kingsmen, even though it had every excuse to look miserable.

Facing a large and athletic defensive line, a couple different players played center with Crafton Chamberlain out with an injury. Despite all that, the line opened up lanes for the running game and gave Adams time in the pocket.

“We had a good offensive game and stayed strong,” offensive lineman Nolan Wright said.

Adams said, “This was the best game we’ve had for the line. Especially running backs. We had a great running game. Everything was great for us.”

After a turbulent start, things appear to be turning around. The work ethic in practice, which was called into question after Wilson, was solved, at least in the week leading up to Putnam.

“We just focused all week,” Wright said “We didn’t want to lose anymore. We wanted to win, and we just focused hard.”

With six games left in the season, there is plenty of time to rack up some wins, just as long as Sandy holds onto that desire.

“We’re going to come out hungry next Friday night,” Adams said. “You’re going to see it. We’ll be fired up.”

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