Story and photos by Kurt Johnson
Picking the top anything of the year is never an easy proposition, and as we complete our third list of top Utah high school sports stories of the year for Preps Utah, we found that this list is no exception.
For the 2013-2014 school year, we released our Top 20 stories of the year, but this year, we have expanded our list to 25 stories, some of which combine multiple events that share common themes. Since the goal is not to be exactly right, as anything of this nature is entirely subjective, but to recognize as many of the great accomplishments of the student athletes across the state as we can, we hope you will understand.
Beginning July 13 and continuing for the next three weeks, we will release one or two items on our list per day, beginning with No. 25 and working our way up to story No. 1. Today, we announce No. 16.
#16 – Football’s fresh faces
In recent years, certain teams have become fixtures at Rice-Eccles Stadium as the Utah state high school football playoffs reach those final two rounds.
Pick up a team in Southern Utah and there is a good chance it has been a participant in the 3A (more recently 3AA) semifinals and/or finals. The story is the same when it comes to Bingham, Brighton, Jordan, Timpview, East ,Woods Cross, Bountiful and others when the 4A and 5A teams take the field.
Perhaps the most refreshing scene on semifinal Thursday and Friday in 2014 was the arrival of some fresh faces to join the state semifinal party. In Class 4A, one semifinal featured one undefeated team, Corner Canyon, in just its second year of existence against another unbeaten squad, Roy, that was 1-19 over the course of two seasons less just five years ago.
Bingham won its second consecutive state title in Class 5A, but its championship game opponents wasn’t Brighton or Jordan or Lone Peak, but instead it was an American Fork squad that had been in the postseason just once since 2007. The high-profile programs at Bingham and Timpview ended up winning the state titles, but these three teams were a nice addition, and perhaps a sign that new blood is coming.
American Fork, 5A runner-up
American Fork (11-3) lost the state championship game 20-3 to Bingham, but before that contest. the Cavemen ran the table in a very competitive Region 4. Then they rolled a pair of perennial playoff teams – Jordan (58-13 in the quarterfinal round) and Brighton (58-28 in the semifinals) to get to the title contest.
A year prior, American Fork was the odd man out in that league, when a 3-3 region record (6-4 overall) was not good enough to get it into the tournament at all. American Fork was 3-7 in 2012 and 5-6 in 2011, including a first-round playoff loss to Viewmont. Before that, the Cavemen had not visited postseason play since the 2007 team went 9-4 and reached the 5A state semifinal.
The 2014 edition of the Cavemen, under the direction of Aaron Behm, did rely on a lot of seniors playing both offense and defense, but the program appears to be deep and ready to make an impact going forward.
Senior Zach Katoa was the offensive superstar, with nearly 1,700 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns, along with nearly 600 yards receiving. He was also one of the team’s top defensive players. Quarterback Tanner Smith does have another year remaining at American Fork, and in 2014, he exceeded 3,000 passing yards and tossed 19 touchdowns.
Tight end Nate Heaps caught 63 passes for nearly 700 yards, while Coleson Worley was the big-play guy at wideout with nearly 1,000 receiving yards. Stats aside, the leader of this team was most like two-way lineman James Empey.
Empey combined with players like Nick Bernardo, Nate Honey, Ben Cummings and Katoa to form a defense that was somewhat underrated most of the season. That perception really changed during the postseason when the Cavemen shut down some of the state’s most explosive offensive players.
Roy, 4A runner-up
The Royals seemed to come out of nowhere to finish 13-1 after a 28-7 loss to Timpview in the 4A title game. Fred Fernandes’ crew made the playoffs in 2013, when it finished 6-4 but lost to East 65-14 in the opening round of postseason play.
Roy also finished 6-4 in 2012, but did not make the tournament. That was another step in the ongoing improvement in the program since Fernandes took the reins. The 2011 team was 4-5, but the 2009 and 2010 teams were 1-19 combined.
The Royals did reach the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, but finished each of those campaigns with a losing record.
For a team that has not won a state title since 1981 and had endured a lot of lean years, 2014 was a welcome relief. Senior quarterback Tyler Skidmore led the way with more than 2,800 yards passing and 23 touchdown throws.
Skidmore’s favorite targets, Cody Hobbs (53 receptions, 1,160 yards) and Nate Jones (41 for 705), were also two of the leaders on a very talented, but underrated Royal defense. James Martinez was another star among the defensive group.
Baby Tee Eteuati (775 yards) and Matty Matautia (699 yards) added to Roy’s offensive versatility with a power running game that figures to carry on into 2015. What won’t continue into the next season is that 4A designation, as the Royals have been moved to 5A, giving Fernandes a whole new set of challenges for his developing program.
Corner Canyon, 4A semifinalist
The Corner Canyon story is different from those of Roy and American Fork as the Chargers are a fresh face deep into the postseason only because the school has only been open for two years. Perhaps that’s what makes it all the more impressive. With players coming in from other schools, mostly Alta, after the new Corner Canyon High was opened in Draper, head coach Donald Eck wasted no time joining the playoff party.
The inaugural year saw the Chargers reaching the postseason and advancing to the second round of the playoffs before being blown out by East. In 2014, Corner Canyon followed that up with a 12-0 start before bowing out 39-0 in the semifinal matchup with Roy. That was a result impacted significantly by the absence of starting quarterback Michael Ebeling, who was injured in the team’s playoff opener.
With realignment moving three-time defending state champion Timpview into the Chargers’ Region 7, this is a team that is set to be tested heavily as it tries to establish itself as a regular among the state’s elite.
Offensive lineman Brandon Bowen was a major impact player for Corner Canyon, earning him a scholarship to play at Ohio State next. He leaves behind another of this teams’ major impact players in heavily recruited defensive end Keaton Bills.
A pair of seniors carried the load for the Charger offense in 2014, as Ebeling passed for 1,500 yards, ran for more than 800 more, and contributed a combined 31 touchdowns. Running back Riley Ogden carried the ball more than 250 times for more than 1,800 yards to provide Eck’s team with another primary option.
With Roy moving to 5A, Corner Canyon looking to reload while adding significant challenges within its region and American Fork needing to replace a group of two-way stars while still playing in perhaps the state’s deepest league, each of these teams has work to do to stay in the late postseason mix. Wherever 2015 takes us, their participation with deep runs in 2014 was a breath of fresh air.
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