By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography) & Kurt Johnson
Week 3 has arrived for Utah high school football and that means that the pre-region tune-ups are nearing an end. Though league games don’t start for another week or so, there are some outstanding games on the slate for this weekend.
Let me know the games that have you excited. Here are eight that caught my eye, with a little leaning towards some cross-region battles in Class 5A that could give us a good look at the hierarchy among the state’s largest schools.
Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nevada) (1-0) at Bingham (2-0)
The battle between the two-time defending Class 5A state champions and the No. 1 ranked team in the nation is the game of the night in the state of Utah. It’s not often that a nationally-ranked team comes calling, and this has the potential to be a classic.
The Miners need to keep their defense rolling to slow down Tate Martell, Biaggio Walsh and the Gaels’ explosive offense, but the biggest challenge will be Bingham’s need to find its offense. It seems it will need more than the two field goals it mustered last week to knock off Bishop Gorman.
They are expecting a huge crowd at Bingham Friday night and with good reason.
For more on this game, see our preview by clicking this link.
American Fork (1-1) at Brighton (2-0)
The last time these two teams saw each other, it was at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the 2014 5A state semifinals. American Fork was absolutely dominant that day, rolling to a 58-28 win that vaulted the Cavemen into the state title game.
But this is a new year and these are different teams. The Bengals are finding their way after losing starting quarterback Drew Jensen the first week of the season. Hunter Albert completed 9-of-10 passes last week in a nail-biting win over Fremont.
The good news for Brighton is that Simi Fehoko is still in uniform. The state’s best receiver, and one of its top players overall, can make his passer look good pretty much any day. The Bengals also have Sione Lund, one of the best running backs around, and an outstanding two-way player.
American Fork lost last week at Highland, Idaho, so the Cavemen are looking to get back on track and a battle with Brighton is a good measuring stick. Graduation has had an impact on this team, but Tanner Smith is still throwing passes and that makes this offense dangerous.
Nate Honey is American Fork’s version of Lund, as he is a key to the American Fork defense, as well as its leading rusher. The running back is also a big-play guy catching balls out of the backfield.
Brighton won the regular-season matchup between these two teams a year ago before dropping that state semifinal. Now. this battle between Region 3 and Region 4 will provide an early indicator on both of these teams.
Pleasant Grove (1-1) at Jordan (2-0)
Yet another battle between teams from Region 3 and Region 4 that will tell us a lot about not only these teams, but the leagues in which they play. The interesting thing about this contest concerns expectations.
The Vikings entered the season with high expectations and a lot of love from the “experts” regarding their ability to really shake things up in Class 5A. So far, it has been a struggle in Pleasant Grove, but there have been signs.
It’s hard to tell much from last week’s visit to Loomis, California, as that Del Oro team is one of the best programs in the state of California and that venue can be overwhelming. The most telling number regarding this team, however, is eight. That’s how many interceptions the Vikings have thrown during their first two games.
Is this week the week we get a heavier dose of Bub Wilde at quarterback? Can the Vikings’ offense step up and play at the level of their defense? If so, this week is the time to start righting the ship, but it won’t be easy. One key will be getting the ball into Malik Overstreet’s hands as much as possible.
At the beginning of the season, Jordan gained from the benefit of reduced expectations, with four-year starting quarterback Austin Kafentzis finally graduated. Those expectations have been ratcheted way up now, as senior Drew Lisk has passed for 782 yards and six scores over the first two weeks.
One thing that remains similar at Jordan is having a running quarterback, and Lisk also leads the team in rushing. If Pleasant Grove is going to get settled in and look like the team we all expected this week, it will need to slow down the guy who gets the ball in his hands on every snap and it will need to avoid giving the Beetdiggers extra possessions and short fields.
Juan Diego (2-0) at Snow Canyon (2-0)
The first year in Class 3A is off to a good start for the Juan Diego football team and Snow Canyon seems to be significantly improved. This game provides a good test for both teams. They’re not over-reaching in terms of competition, but in a good test of where their programs stand.
The Soaring Eagle have dropped from 3AA to 3A, where they are considered a favorite this season. Quarterback Alex Hoffman has completed 13 passes over the first two weeks, and four have gone for touchdowns. That’s passing efficiency.
The bread and butter for Juan Diego, however, is its running game. Ryan Baker and Kaden Hayward have combined for 76 carries and 409 yards so far and it stands to reason that the Warriors will need to stop the Soaring Eagle in that aspect of the game if they hope to win on the road down south.
Snow Canyon has used great defense and a balanced offensive attack so far, and it will look to do the same Friday against Juan Diego. The Warriors forced five turnovers in their Week 1 win over Payson, and intercepted two more passes at Cottonwood last week.
There may not be a single Snow Canyon offensive player with big offensive numbers, but the collective effect of that balance has been enough so far. the Soaring Eagle are a little better test of how much the Warriors have really improved.
Desert Hills (1-1) at Roy (0-1)
Two teams who share a common opponent already this year will get together this week. The Thunder are working to get their season going at full speed after the Moroni Sewell injury that came in their opening night loss to Jordan.
The Beetdiggers turned around the next week and survived the potent running game of Roy, which had Week 1 off with a bye. The Royals don’t seem to have the offensive balance that made them so potent a year ago, but that running game is stellar. It could leave a Desert Hills offense that scored 50 points a week ago against Foothill (Henderson, Nevada).
Last week, Baby Tee Eteuati did the heavy lifting, with 20 carries for 96 yards and three touchdowns, but Roy spread the ball around. Matty Matautia ran it just seven times, but picked up 95 yards, while Hunter Mather ran for 70 yards and Brayden Sampson went for 68. Expect the Royals to pound the ground game again, hoping to keep Nick Warmsley standing on the sidelines.
The Thunder quarterback is averaging just under 300 yards passing and nearly 100 yards on the ground for Desert Hills. Zak Fuchs is his primary target in the passing game, and Warmsley will try to keep that connection hot in this game as well.
The real question in this contest revolves around the ability of Badge Morris, Fuchs and the Thunder defense to slow the Roy running game and get their offense on the field.
Northridge (2-0) at Layton (2-0)
A pair of unbeaten 5A teams in the northern part of the state get together Friday night in a game that will tell us a lot about what might be lurking in Region 1 and Region 2 this season.
Back-to-back outstanding performances from quarterback Jrue Perkins have allowed Northridge to pick up wins over Viewmont and Bonneville. Perkins has run for 189 yards (three TDs) and passed for 672 yards (six TDs) through two weeks, and his passing efficiency has been outstanding as he has completed about 65 percent of his passes.
Layton will need to find a way to slow the Knight trigger man along with the team’s No. 2 runner and leading receiver Cyrus Daniels if it wants to remain undefeated on the season. The key to that is to ride its own running game.
Keoni Larsen has recorded nearly 300 yards rushing while the Lancers have won convincingly against Weber and Clearfield, and he averages more than 10 yards per carry. Quarterback Tayler Katoa has done more with his legs than his arm so far, but Layton still looks to receiver Julian Blackmon to pick up huge yards whenever he touches the ball, even it has to hand it to him.
Can Northridge limit Layton’s big plays? Or, will the Lancers find a way to slow Perkins? Whichever happens will decide which of these teams gets to 3-0.
Riverton (1-1) and Fremont (1-1)
A battle of two solid programs that have some questions to answer after the first two weeks of this season will get together in a battle of Silverwolves and Silver Wolves. These two teams are in tough regions and both will be in the middle of the fight for playoff positioning all year long.
For now, this will be a game for both to find out for sure just where things stand.
Riverton lost its opener to 5A newcomer Sky View, and then went on the road to Idaho and pounded that state’s Sky View in Week 2. The Silverwolves have a new coach, but they are still what they have always been, a team that will pound the ball on the ground and bring it on defense.
Ultimately, this team’s success both this week and every week will revolve around its best player – linebacker Simeon Page. Page, Drake Downs and the Riverton defense combine with a power running game to give the Silverwolves a chance every week.
This year. Branson Mahoney and Josh Glenn are the key runners, while Kalen Cook is a home run threat in the running game. Riverton also has the ability to be very efficient through the air.
Fremont, on the other hand, put on a good show with the passing game to give Brighton all it could handle last week. The Silver Wolves scored late, but were stopped on a two-point conversion that would have tied that game.
Saxton Morby threw for 219 yards on 21-for-29 passing in that game, and threw a pair of touchdown passes. Haze Hadley was on the receiving end of 13 of those balls, for 137 yards. That combination will be at the forefront again this week for Fremont.
Judge Memorial (0-2) at Provo (2-0)
Despite its 0-2 record, Judge Memorial might be the stiffest test yet for unbeaten Provo. The Bulldogs have lost tough games on the road at Pine View and at home against Woods Cross, but the two-time 3A champs are a talented team that really doesn’t want to fall to 0-3.
Judge Memorial is still looking for answers on both sides of the ball, but as they look for things to click, a rapidly improving opponent that also calls itself the Bulldogs might not be the best place to start.
Provo has won by large margins over both Cedar and Payson thus far and is looking to get to 3-0 as it continues to build its program under head coach Tony McGeary. Quarterback Viliami Iongi is one of the state’s most talented, yet unheralded players.
Throwing to Tevita Ika and Ty Jones, Iongi is having a huge season. If the Judge Bulldogs are going to get things going in the right direction, they will have to disrupt that part of the Provo Bulldogs’ game.