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Snow College quarterback Garrison Beach threw for two touchdowns in the NJCAA National Championship game before leaving with an injured knee early in the third quarter.

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There’s no question COVID-19 sent a lot of junior college football programs into a tailspin, but that was not the case at Snow College, much to the delight of starting quarterback Garrison Beach.

There was no mass exodus for the Badgers after the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) announced it would be moving fall sports to the spring of 2021. Instead, most of the Snow College players elected to remain on campus and develop the kind of chemistry that was needed for a successful spring.

“It was very gratifying,” said Beach, who graduated from Sky View in 2016. “I was so proud of everyone on our team. Everyone stayed in Ephraim during the fall and came back right after Christmas break to get back to work for the spring season. Everyone bought in and just worked extremely hard to reach our team goal of winning a national championship.”

That level of dedication paid off as the second-ranked Badgers recently capped off their first undefeated regular season since 2008 and were selected to compete in the NJCAA National Championship game. Snow was oh so close to capturing its second national title in program history as it lost a 29-27 heartbreaker to No. 1 Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College last Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Beach was one of four Cache Valley athletes that suited up for the Badgers in ’21, joining fellow former Bobcat Max Christensen, plus Logan’s Cade Parrish and Mountain Crest’s Eli Wells. That quartet helped Snow (8-1) rank first nationally in scoring differential (37.63 points per game) heading into Saturday’s showdown with Hutchinson (8-0).

“It means a lot,” said Christensen, who started on the defensive line for the Badgers. “To be able to share this season with kids I grew up playing against and my childhood quarterback made it that much more special. It also shows the quality football players Cache Valley produces every year.”

Those sentiments were also echoed by Beach, who graduated from Sky View the same year as Christensen. Likewise, Parrish graduated from high school in 2016, while Wells was a 2018 graduate. All four local athletes served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before enrolling at Snow.

“It was amazing to share not only this season but the last few with Cade, Eli and especially Max,” Beach said. “Max and I have played football and basketball together since we were 9 years old. He’s one of my best friends and always will be. We’ve been through a lot together and it was a blessing to be able to share this one last ride with him.”

Beach and Christensen are both sophomores, as is Parrish. However, all three players have the option to remain in Ephraim — which is a little more than a three-hour car ride from Logan — for one more season because the NJCAA froze eligibility for all of its fall sport athletes.

Parrish, Christensen and Beach all have scholarship offers to four-year programs, and will have to make a decision in the near future. Christensen said “it’s 50-50 right now” whether he will play one more season at the JUCO level, and Beach is also mulling over his options. Meanwhile, Wells just completed his freshman season.

If it wasn’t for some bad luck, Wells, Parrish, Beach and Christensen might have left Arkansas with the hardware they desired. You see, Snow led for nearly the entire game and was nursing a 14-10 advantage when Beach went down with a knee injury early in the third quarter and was unable to return. No. 6 dislocated his left kneecap and will undergo further tests this week, although he’s pretty confident it’s an injury he will recover from quickly.

In just over two quarters of action, Beach completed 11 of 16 passes for 185 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was also picked off once, but it was a controversial play in which it appeared the Snow wide receiver wrestled the ball away from the Hutchinson cornerback before the two players hit the turf. The Badgers would have been inside the Blue Dragons’ 10-yard line had it been ruled a reception.

Both of Beach’s touchdown tosses took place in the opening quarter — the first one a 8-yarder to Duece Robinson over the middle of the field, and the second one in a 69-yard catch and run by Tejhuan Palmer on a well-placed pass down the sideline. Beach, who also rushed for a team-high 42 yards on five attempts, was injured on a well-executed quarterback keeper into the red zone.

It was a memorable season for the 6-foot, 195-pounder, who ranked first this season among all JUCO players in touchdown passes. Beach completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,717 yards (190.8 yards an outing) and 24 TDs, vs. eight interceptions.

“I’m not a big personal accolades guy,” Beach said. “I just want to win games. If I could trade leading the nation in touchdown passes for winning the national championship, I would in a heartbeat.”

Gabe Sweeten, Snow’s backup signal caller, led the Badgers on a couple second-half scoring drives, but the Blue Dragons found paydirt three times after halftime to secure the come-from-behind victory. Three missed field goals — two inside of 32 yards — and a failed two-point conversion loomed large for Snow.

The Badgers had one final chance to rally past the Blue Dragons, but Sweeten was picked off with 1:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.

As gutwrenching as the loss was, the Badgers can certainly take some solace in the fact they proved they belonged in the championship game, which was televised nationally by the CBS Sports Network.

“We knew we had a shot to be in the national title picture this season,” Beach said. “We had a lot of guys coming back and it was just an expectation for our program to get to that game. We showed we were one of the top teams in JUCO and, baring a few crazy plays, I felt we showed that we were the best team in JUCO football.”

It didn’t take long for the Badgers to suggest they were one of the premier teams in the country. After all, Snow traveled to Council Bluffs, Iowa, for its season opener against traditional power Iowa Western Community College on March 27, and left with a thrilling 31-30 win over the then-No. 2 Reivers. Beach threw the game-winning TD pass with 17 seconds remaining in the contest, and it was the Reivers’ lone setback of the spring.

“After that game we knew they would be the toughest team we faced until the National Championship if we got that chance,” said Christensen, who was mentored by Snow defensive line coach AJ Pataiali’i, who is a former Snow and Utah State star player. “It gave us the confidence we needed to run the table with an undefeated schedule and a shot at the title. We always had respect for our opponents, but we never walked into a game thinking they could beat us. That’s the confidence our coaches gave us, and the trust and chemistry we had with each other.”

Indeed, it was also a very fulfilling season for Christensen, who was credited with 13 tackles in five games according to the NJCAA website. The 6-2, 285-pounder played everywhere in the defensive trenches for the Badgers. Christensen was credited for a pair of tackles in the national title game and made his presence felt on several other plays.

“I grew up a lot when it came to the mental side of the game, knowing how to work on the inside as a defensive tackle and the outside as a defensive end,” Christensen said. “This is the most versatile I’ve ever been as a football player. Being able to play three positions on the defensive line gave me more chances to be on the field and help my team be successful.”

Regardless of what the future holds, Christensen will always be “very grateful” for his time in Ephraim. After all, Snow College gave him a chance after the University of Nevada pulled his scholarship while he was on his mission. No. 18 signed with the Wolf Pack before his mission, but former head coach Brian Polian was fired and the new staff didn’t honor his scholarship.

“I’m a Badger for life now,” Christensen proclaimed. “They helped me continue my dream of playing football after high school and helped me continue to chase the dream of playing at a four-year program. Junior college football has also just taught me many life lessons and has given me lifelong friends as well.”

Parrish and Wells also contributed for the Badgers this past season on special teams and as second-string offensive linemen. Parrish, who is taking an official recruiting visit to the University of Buffalo this weekend, played significant minutes for Snow.

Parrish is one of at least three current Snow offensive linemen that have Division I offers. Beach praised the big boys up front and said it was the “best (line) I’ve had since I’ve been there (at Snow).”

Beach also spoke highly of his other teammates, plus the Badgers’ coaching staff.

“I think our biggest strength on and of the field was just how tight knit and close we were as a team,” Beach said. “You will rarely, if ever, find a JUCO football team as close as we were. ... Everyone trusted each other on the field to get the job done. Offense trusted the defense and vice versa. Players trusted coaches and coaches trusted players. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better team this year.”

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.

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