By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography), Shane Marshall & Kurt Johnson
Hard to believe we are already heading into the second half of the high school football regular season. Things are starting to take shape and at this point everyone is into region play. A few bye-week non-league matchups are on the slate, but the biggest battles have major implications on the region standings.
Here are 10 games that intrigue me this week. All are in-region games, beginning with a matchup that created one of last year’s classic contests.
Read on to see the games I have my eye on then let me know what games have your interest this week.
Jordan (1-0 in Region 3, 4-1 overall) at Brighton (2-0, 5-0)
78-76 in three overtimes. Need I say more?
The last time these two got together, it was an offensive showcase for the ages. That was Oct. 15, not quite a year ago. While we shouldn’t necessarily expect the same kind of offensive explosion, this Region 3 battle certainly shapes up as a classic early season matchup.
The winner gets a leg up in positioning itself as the primary challenger to two-time defending 5A state champion Bingham for the league title. If last year is any indication, however, the real winners will be those who get a chance to see the game.
Jordan had 764 yards in that game last year, while the Bengals countered with 683. The quarterbacks from that night are gone, but their replacements seem to be doing just fine. And that’s with Brighton down to the No. 2 guy this season after the injury to Drew Jensen sidelined the senior in Week 1.
The Beetdiggers come in off a 38-35 loss to Cherry Creek, one of Colorado’s top teams, last Saturday. That game featured a furious Jordan comeback with 21 fourth-quarter points that fell just short. It was the first loss of the season for the Beetdiggers.
Senior Drew Lisk has done a nice job taking the reins at quarterback for Jordan after a four-year run by Austin Kafentzis. Lisk averages more than 340 yards passing and more than 80 yards rushing per game, and he has passed for 12 touchdowns, while running for six more.
Lisk and a pair of juniors, Alec Evans and Alec Kener will look to keep the Bengals honest with the ground game, but with receivers like juniors Spencer Curtis (43 catches, nearly 150 yards per game receiving) and Isaiah Jackson (22.5 yards per catch) on the outside, Lisk will look to fill the air with footballs.
Playing with its backup quarterback, Brighton has done a better job keeping itself in games with defense, particularly with big play defense. The Bengal defense has 20 tackles-for-loss through the first five contests, with defensive end Doug Taumoelau and junior linebacker Max Miner leading the way in that category.
Jackson Kaufusi, Sione Lund and Max Hoole, the other three linebackers, combine with Miner to give Brighton one of the state’s best groups at that position. The ability to get pressure on Lisk will be critical if the Bengals are to find a way to win this one.
Senior Hunter Albert has settled in at the quarterback position for Brighton, and he knows where the bread is buttered. The Bengal offense has been pretty much a two-headed beast, with Lund on the ground and Simi Fehoko by air.
Lund ran for 148 yards in last year’s triple-overtime battle and the junior has run for 563 yards and seven scores so far this year. Fehoko went for 203 yards receiving a year ago, and this year he is off the charts.
Brighton, as a team, has 52 receptions…Fehoko has 30 of them. Bengal pass catchers have caught passes for 1,039 yards total…Fehoko has 769 of those yards. There have been nine TD receptions…seven of them to Fehoko. You’d think you can stop it when you know where it’s going, but nothing so far indicates that is the case.
The Bengals are 5-0 because they have been winning the close games. Jordan is explosive. The Beetdiggers score more than 40 points per game, while Brighton is yielding just over 20 per contest. It’s a great matchup, and the headliner for Week 6.
Spanish Fork (1-1 Region 8, 3-2 overall) at Maple Mountain (0-1, 4-1)
Another neighborhood battle in Southern Utah County as these two Region 8 rivals look to stay in contact with league-leading Springville and unbeaten Wasatch. The Red Devils have seized control of Region 8 with back-to-back wins over these two squads the last two weeks, which puts added emphasis on this one as neither Spanish Fork or Maple Mountain wants to fall further behind.
Big plays are a significant part of the story for the Dons, both on offense and defense. If Spanish Fork is going to win this week, it could come down to that.
The Dons have intercepted 11 passes in five games, but the story runs deeper. Freshman linebacker Mase Funa has four of those picks, and he has returned three of them for touchdowns. As good as he is, Golden Eagle quarterback Jaren Hall has thrown a few interceptions this season so he will need to account for Funa.
Spanish Fork quarterback Nate Keisel is not the most efficient passer (he is completing about 40 percent of his passes), but he is the Dons’ leading runner and he has tossed it for nearly 1,100 yards, with an average of 18 per completion.
Like their opponent, Maple Mountain leans heavily on its quarterback in the passing and running game. Hall is the Golden Eagles’ leading rusher and he has thrown for just shy of 1,000 yards with 10 scores. Most critically, the Maple Mountain signal caller is at his best in the fourth quarter, so in a close game like this one should be, you have to like his chances.
Stansbury (1-1 Region 3AA North, 4-1 overall) at Park City (1-1, 3-2)
The new-look 3AA North region looks like it is going to be a scramble all year long, and that makes this battle between Stansbury and Park City a huge game even this early in the year. The Stallions already have a league loss to Tooele, while the Miners dropped one to Ben Lomond. With Logan already out in front at 2-0, that makes for a lot of teams fighting for position.
This is a classic contrast in styles, with Stansbury relying heavily on the running game and the Miners looking to unleash its passing attack.
Running back McCoy Didericksen and quarterback Colton Christiansen provide a two-pronged power running game for the Stallions, who have scored 15 of their 17 offensive touchdowns with the ground game.
Park City will mix in a little bit of run with Grayson Maddux and John Root, but the real damage comes from junior quarterback Spencer Zur, who averages more than 310 yards passing per game and has thrown 15 touchdowns. One concern with all that throwing in the eight interceptions, an area Stansbury will look to attack.
Collin Zur, Harrison Fugate and Beau Pederson are the three leaders in a dynamic Miner receiving corps. Combined with Spencer Zur, those pass catchers are the key to Park City’s success.
Dixie (1-0 Region 3AA South, 4-1 overall) at Desert Hills (1-0, 2-2)
The defending state champion Flyers are rolling again, and Desert Hills seems to have found its legs again after some injuries and a couple of difficult matchups gave it a pair of early defeats. This is a great time for this game, a real test for two teams with solid defenses.
On paper, Dixie appears to be unstoppable offensively, much like the Thunder’s first opponent this season, Jordan. That game was impacted somewhat by the Nephi Sewell injury, but Desert Hills had a difficult time shutting down that offense. The Thunder have to be hoping that contest will be good preparation for this one.
The Flyers can run it (Tre Miller has 710 yards rushing, 8.66 yards per carry and six touchdowns) and throw it (Zac Harrah – 1,200 passing yards, 15 TDs and no interceptions). That is a tough combination that will test the home team.
Nick Warmsley has 11 touchdown passes for the Thunder and he is also the team’s leading runner. He is experienced and talented, and as a big-game performer, he gives his team a chance every Friday night.
Olympus (1-0 Region 6, 3-2 overall) at Kearns (1-0, 5-0)
The most surprising undefeated team in the state is Kearns, but this week will be the Cougars’ biggest test so far. Kearns is 5-0 and has not been tested yet, but the combined record of those five opponents is 4-21. That makes this a great week for the team to prove itself as it seeks its first-ever 6-0 start.
The Titans are coming off a 43-0 win over Cyprus, and since these two teams appear to be among the front-runners in Region 6, a win in this one will go a long way in setting the tone for the next four weeks.
The Cougar defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times, and led by Graden Luckart, who also has three interceptions, they have been impressive on that side of the ball. It will be the Kearns run defense that will get the biggest test this week, as the Titans lean heavily on that aspect of their offense, as senior Quinn Meier averages just under 150 yards per game on the ground.
When Kearns has the ball, the running game behind Sione Finau will be the key. Finau has run for 467 yards and 11 touchdowns. Avoiding negative plays is critical for the Cougars, as Olympus is one of the state’s best teams at tackles-for-loss, led by senior linebacker Tupa Mauga and senior defensive back Nate Hoole.
American Fork (1-0 Region 4, 3-2 overall) at Lehi (1-1, 3-2)
Just when things were looking really good in Lehi as the Pioneers continue to improve upon last year’s 0-10 campaign, there was a little bit of a wake-up call last week at Pleasant Grove. That 35-14 loss to the Vikings should provide plenty of motivation as the Pioneers prepare for their homecoming game against the Cavemen.
American Fork is still a work-in-progress offensively, but the defense looks like it is very good once again. This is a team that lost a lot of players from last year’s state finalist, but the new group keeps the Cavemen in every game, and gives them a chance to win.
The success of the American Fork offense has been largely driven by the running and pass receiving work of Nate Honey, who is also one of the team’s best defensive players. Honey sat out last week’s non-region game against Corner Canyon, which accounts for a lot of possible reasons for the 10-7 final score.
Linebackers Garrett Purvis and Mason Robbennolt, and defensive end Davis Rasmussen will need to lead the American Fork defense to some heavy pressure on Lehi quarterback Cammon Cooper so the Cavemen can disrupt the sophomore’s timing. That was a big key to the defensive success Pleasant Grove enjoyed against Lehi last week.
The Pioneers offense is built around Cooper’s passing and particularly the short passing game. He has passed for 1,241 yards and 11 scores, with Carson Terrell and Wyatt Parkinson playing the role as his favorite targets.
This game will come down to American Fork’s defense getting off the field without allowing Lehi to work the ball methodically down the field for points. On the other side, the Pioneers will look to make Caveman quarterback Tanner Smith uncomfortable. He can make big plays in the passing game, but his 9/8 TD to interception ratio is still a question mark at this point.
North Summit (1-0 2A North, 3-2 overall) at Summit Academy (1-0, 3-2)
The best matchup among the smaller-school regions this week takes place in Bluffdale. Teh North Summit Braves will bring the defense and the signature running game, while Summit Academy counters with the wide-open passing game.
The Bears have scored just 30 points combined over their last two contests, so their key to success may be finding something to complement the arm of senior signal caller Justin Miller. Of course, it all else fails, Miller, the transfer from Lone Peak, has compiled nearly 300 yards passing per game, with 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Summit Academy will spread the ball around through its strong receiving corps, which includes Darrin Gethers, Kholten Bills, Hunter Mangum and Baylor Harding. If Miller can get them all involved, it will be a difficult matchup for the Braves.
For North Summit, defense has been a staple along with the running game that is fueled by 664 yards so far from Tristan Woolstenhulme. The Braves will look to get Miller off the field and then pound the ball so they can keep him there.
Timpview (2-0 Region 7, 4-1 overall) at Orem (0-2, 2-3)
This game is big not necessarily because it looks, on paper, like a great matchup, but more because of the critical importance it carries for the home team. Timpview appears to be ready to dominate its new region the same way it owned Region 8 the last few years, while Orem has struggled in its two league battles thus far.
Having already dropped its games against Alta and Corner Canyon, two teams that feel like they will compete for one of the four postseason spots from this league, the Tigers can ill afford to drop to 0-3. That makes this a very bad time for the Thunderbirds to come calling.
The schedule lightens up a bit going forward, but add Provo to the mix and you probably have the list of five teams from whom the playoff representatives will come. Orem will be pulling out all the stops.
Gunnar Legas finally saw some time at quarterback last week after missing all of the first four games with an injury. While Hunter Van Buren has put up some huge numbers in the passing game, one of them is 13. It’s in there twice as he has thrown both 13 touchdowns and also 13 interceptions.
Against the Timpview secondary, that’s not a comfortable situation, so Legas could change some things up for the Tigers in that area. With Chase Hermann and Kody Codner as huge weapons on the outside, Orem needs to find a way to get them ball out and into their hands.
The Thunderbirds, on the other hand, tend to rotate weeks between heavy production in the passing game from Kahi Neves or on the ground from Saia Folaumahina. Either way, they can hurt you, particularly with the big play, where receiver Samson Nacua is the No. 1 option.
Linebacker Nate Richardson has been huge for the Timpview defense that is just coming around to be the kind of unit the T-Birds are used to having. The one to watch in this game, especially when you look at the number of interceptions Orem has thrown, is defensive back Will Watanabe, a serious playmaker in the Timpview secondary.
Sky View (2-0 Region 1, 5-0 overall) at Northridge (1-0, 3-2)
The move to 5A hasn’t seemed to faze Sky View much, so far, but this game with Northridge starts a run of five straight against enhanced competition. That makes this one important for the Bobcats, who have pretty much rolled to that 5-0 record.
The Knights also have three difficult games the three weeks that follow this contest, so they could really use a win against Sky View. That won’t be easy, but if they are going to pull it off, expect a high-scoring back-and-forth game. Northridge has become accustomed to trying to outscore its opponents.
Northridge will look to score a lot of points due to the explosive skills of quarterback Jrue Perkins and running back Cyrus Daniels. Those two each have identical totals of 516 rushing yards, while Perkins passes for nearly 250 yards per game and has tossed 11 touchdown passes, with Daniels as his leading receiver.
Mason Tye is the running complement to quarterback Garrison Beach, who is Sky View’s leading rusher in addition to being a fantastic passer. Beach completes 67 percent of his passes and has thrown for more than 265 yards per game with 13 touchdown passes.
Wideouts Alex McRae and Zach Morrison are a big part of that, but the biggest target, literally, is 6-foot-6, 220-pound tight end Bryce Mortensen. The bottom line is that the Bobcats can score with anyone.
Logan (2-0 3AA North, 3-2 overall) at Tooele (1-0, 3-2)
With its win over Stansbury a couple of weeks ago, Tooele put itself in position to challenge for the 3AA North title, but this is an unsettled situation. How good are the Buffaloes? We will get a good idea this week when the Grizzlies come to town.
Logan began the season playing all of its 5A Northern Utah neighbors, the teams that used to be in the Grizzlies’ 4A Region 5. After a one-point exciting win over Box Elder, which remains in Class 4A, Logan was handled convincingly on successive weeks but two former Region 5 teams, Sky View and Mountain Crest, that have now moved to Class 5A.
Once they got back to their new home in the 3AA North Region, the Grizzlies are out to a 2-0 start. This game against Tooele is a chance for Logan to cast itself as the league favorite.
The one thing you can count on with the Buffaloes is that they will run the ball and run the ball some more. Occasionally, Tooele will mix in a big play in the passing game, but Ryan Brady, Lincoln Powers and Demetrius Smith will pound away at the Logan defense with a persistent run game.
The Grizzlies turned to Robbie Ballam last week to ignite their passing game, and he had considerable success, throwing for 200 yards on 17-of-21 passing. It looks like something Logan will try to replicate going forward. Spencer Corbett and Hartman Rector are just too solid on the outside to ignore.