It was never about the final score for Water Canyon on Friday night.
The school—which first opened its doors in 2016—played first-ever football game against the Grand County Red Devils was much more than the game itself.
In a community that hasn’t seen football played at the high school level, the border communities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah packed the bleachers for its first edition of Friday night lights.
“For our kids, it’s just one of our big goals is to make every kid that we have here in Water Canyon the same experience that they would at any other high school,” said Water Canyon Principal Steve Showalter. “And football is a big part of a high school community. Kids rally around it. It’s a sport that really brings out a lot of people, a lot of excitement. We’re working really hard to make sure our academics are on par with everybody else in the state, we want our athletics to be the same thing.”
The first game jitters were evident from the opening snap for the Wildcats.
Water Canyon fumbled the first two snaps of the game, losing the second one to set up Grand’s first score just 1:41 into the game.
A fumble on the ensuing kickoff was matched by a forced fumble and recovery by Daniel Barlow.
While the Wildcats were unable to find the scoreboard in the 50-0 defeat, signs of life were shown occasionally by the offense.
Dylan Horsley found Jonathan Timpson for a third and long conversion on the team’s second drive in the opening quarter.
Running back Kyden Johnson ripped off a long run in the third quarter that ignited the still engaged and energized crowd.
Collin Kelsch along with Aaron and Lester Barlow flew around on the defensive side of the ball for the Wildcats.
“I was just happy at halftime that we had fans sitting there and they weren’t booing us,” joked head coach Heber Horsley. “Everybody stuck around, and they fought there with us... It means a lot. I think the crowd-they’ve never experienced anything like this-lights in Hildale, it’s amazing.”
Water Canyon is slated to be in the eight-man division along with Monticello, Gunnison Valley, Rich, and Altamont. Two members of the Water Canyon football team put pads and helmets on for the first time ever when camp started five weeks ago.
“These kids were raised in a community where there were no sports,” said Horsley. “We tried to have them ready. We told them what was coming, but they didn’t know what was coming. It’s different when you get the enemy on the field and you’re hitting them at full speed as opposed to in practice.”
This year is the first season of eight-man football in the state of Utah.
Playing 11 on 11 on Friday night against a 2A school, Water Canyon ran thin on reserves, especially after an injury to Timpson and two other starters being held out.
“We probably had too many people playing both sides of the ball,” Horsley said. “We’ll probably be able to manage that better in eight-man but out OLine and our DLine was the same four guys, and they were just done.”
Rayce Walling had three rushing touchdowns for the Red Devils. Tatym Bisco threw for two and ran one in himself.
Other non-eight-man teams on the Wildcats schedule includes Parowan, Milford, Enterprise, and Kanab.
Water Canyon plays El Capitan (Colorado City) next Friday in a battle of the two towns.
Sean Ellertson is a sports reporter for the St. George Spectrum & Daily News. To continue to support his work, please subscribe to The Spectrum. Follow Sean on Twitter @SeanEllertson.
This article originally appeared on St. George Spectrum & Daily News: Water Canyon falls in inaugural football game against Grand County