By Kurt Johnson
Teams are beginning to state their case for postseason positioning as we head into Week 7 of the football regular season. That makes every game critical and that turns up the intensity in a big way.
There are also a number of injury situations that are impacting the chase for the playoffs, but that’s no different than what we see any other year. We have also reached the point in the year when the schedule starts to bounce around with a larger selection of Thursday games and even an upcoming week when everything happens Wednesday.
That started Thursday night this week, when two outcomes have a major impact on the standings – one from a game that was expected to do so and the other was a bit of a surprise. With the way things have gone this year at Mountain View and Timpanogos, it was clear that the Thursday visit of Orem (0-3 in Region 7 coming in) to Provo (1-1 coming in) was a huge game in Region 7.
It’s possible that the winner gets one of the four available playoff spots from that league, while the loser would be in jeopardy. Or, as it turned out after the Bulldogs hung on for a 24-21 win, it seems likely that it was a postseason elimination game for the Tigers, who have now lost to each of the four teams above them in the standings.
Down south, Region 3AA South front-runner Dixie lost to sixth-place Snow Canyon Thursday and that really shakes up that league. Now, five of the six teams in 3AA South have one loss, while Snow Canyon is 1-2. After Friday night’s games are over, there will be three 2-1 teams and three that will be 1-2.
Here are 10 games that intrigue me from the Friday night slate. All but one are in-region games, and that one is a possible late playoff round preview. Read on to see the games I have my eye on then let me know what games have your interest this week.
Mountain Crest (2-0 in Region 1, 5-0 overall) at Roy (2-0, 3-1)
A year ago, this was a Class 4A Region 5 game, but now it is a battle for a share of the lead in 5A Region 1, a top spot that team would share with the other squad that migrated with these two from Region 5, Sky View. The Bobcats are already 3-0 in league play.
Mountain Crest is a pretty good defensive team, but the Mustangs are averaging more than 40 points per game. Through two region wins, the Royals have allowed just 11.5 points a night. That could be the matchup that decides this contest.
Will Roy be able to slow the Mountain Crest attack or keep the Mustang offense standing on the sidelines while it pounds the ball on the ground or will the Royals be dragged into a scoring battle. If that’s the case, Mountain Crest’s Tanner Schwab will have the advantage. He threw five touchdown passes last week and has 19 for the season.
Baby Tee Eteuati is the leading rusher for the Royals, but Roy gets four different guys involved in the running game. The ability to move the ball down the field one run at a time would really help the Royals in this one.
American Fork (2-0 Region 4, 4-2 overall) at Lone Peak (3-0, 6-0)
If anyone’s going to stop a potential season-ending head-to-head battle for the Region 4 title between Lone Peak and Herriman, there’s a good chance the team in American Fork. The Cavemen visit the Knights this week and host the Mustangs next week looking to become the front-runner for league championships.
Lone Peak scores 40 points per game and allow fewer than 10, and that makes this a tall order for any team, even an American Fork squad that reached the state title game last season. With two-way star Nate Honey still missing due to a cracked tibia, it is even more problematic for the Cavemen.
That will put more of the responsibility on the American Fork defense to keep its offense in striking distance. Joshua Bailey has been leading the way for that unit. It also wouldn’t hurt to get some help from the special teams, which caught some breaks last week and scored on a couple of safeties in the win over Lehi.
Offensively, Tanner Smith passed for 336 against the Pioneers and will likely need to do something similar this week for the Cavemen to pull off the upset. He will also have to protect the ball, which has been difficult at times for the senior signal caller so far this season, and Lone Peak will bring the pressure as they have every single week.
The Knights continue to spread the ball around on offense and that makes them very difficult to defend. Send to much attention to junior Jackson McChesney and quarterback Talmage Gunther will take off and run or find Jonny Christensen or Tyson Doman on a passing play. Lone Peak also loves to mix in the power running game with Tyler Kap.
The Knights beat you inside, outside and can get you over the top if they need to. American Fork lost the game, but held high-scoring Brighton to 28 points and also won a low-scoring slugfest against defensive juggernaut Corner Canyon. This game they face a team that combines both the ability to score points and the propensity to keep you from matching that, so this will be the toughest test yet for the Cavemen.
The neighborhood proximity of these two schools just adds more fuel to the fire of what should be an intense battle.
Kearns (1-1 Region 6, 5-1 overall) at Murray (2-0, 5-1)
A week ago at this time, Kearns was riding the wave of emotion of a 5-0 start to the season. Then came a 44-14 loss to Olympus that brought the Cougars back to earth.
There may be no better medicine for what ails Kearns that coming back the next week to face another of the Region 6 front-runners, Murray. It is certain that we will find out a lot about what the Cougars are made of by the time this contest is complete. It’s a big one for setting up the hierarchy in Region 6.
Running back Hunter Jones has been the key for the Spartans offensively, and they will look to establish him to take pressure off quarterback Drew Cash. The Cougars and Graden Luckart will seek to bring the heat on Cash, who has been intercepted eight times this season, to see if they can force a few turnovers.
Kearns also likes to move the ball on the ground, with the explosiveness of Sione Finau and the power running of Sese Felila complementing each other. Shay Reid and Luckart also give the Cougars targets in the passing game to provide a little balance. Dealing with the power of a Murray defense led by Maxs Tupai will be a new challenge.
If statistics are a fair indication, this should be a tightly contested game as these teams are very similar in that regard.
Springville (3-0 Region 8, 6-0 overall) at Wasatch (2-0, 5-1)
This matchup will have a lot to say about who’s going to win the Region 8 title this season. Springville has already won close games over Maple Mountain and Spanish Fork, so getting to 4-0 with a win over the Wasps would be the Red Devils in a great position.
Wasatch, on the other hand, is about to run the gauntlet, with those two teams up next on the schedule after this one is over. That makes it very important for the Wasps to defend their home field against an extremely talented Springville team.
Wasatch is more inclined to run the football, using quarterback Garrett Davis as the primary ball carrier, with Hayden Richards and Jake Davis also helping carry the load. That could diminish one of the greatest strengths of a stout Red Devil defense, which loves to put pressure on the quarterback.
Adam Rodriguez and Vili Kolomalu lead a physical group for the Red Devils on defense, and Springville would love to run the ball, control the clock and beat you with defense. No. 1 running back Scott Averett returned last week from injury, and now the Red Devils have found depth in the running game with Bryce Nelson, Payton Kelepolo and Devyn Tate.
Springville’s defense is right up there with the best units in the state, having allowed just a tick over 10 points per game. The Red Devils have also been very good at winning close games, but that could be put to the test this week as Wasatch has an elite kicker in Skyler Southam, and the kicking game always seems to come into the picture in those tight ones.
Pleasant Grove (1-1 Region 4, 3-3 overall) at Herriman (2-0, 4-2)
With its first region win (over Lehi) followed by a non-league victory over Bountiful, Pleasant Grove seems to be in the process of getting things back on track. That will be tested this week when the Vikings visit Herriman.
The Mustangs are the team that held Bingham to six points in Week 2. They have allowed just 78 points in six games. While that would seem to put some pressure on the Pleasant Grove offense, it will also test a very talented Viking defense as it may need to win a low-scoring affair.
Koy Wilkenson is a tough runner for Pleasant Grove, but everyone has had a difficult time moving the ball on the ground against Herriman, so the Vikings will need to make some plays in the passing game to keep the balance intact. That means Isaac Hamilton will need to take care of the football and do all he can to get it in the hands of explosive wideout Malik Overstreet.
The problem there is that Leki Fotu and the Herriman front seven are hard to handle and then you have the state leader in interceptions, Noah Vaea just waiting to pounce on a mistake.
Ultimately, it could be Tate Briggs, John Raass and the Pleasant Grove defense that will have a say in the outcome of this one. Kaden Strasters and Brig Rush will be running behind that physical Mustang offensive line and the Vikings will need to get their defense off the field.
Brighton (2-1 Region 3, 5-1 overall) at Sky View (3-0 Region 1, 6-0)
Though a non-region game, this one has been circled on a lot of calendars for a long time now. Two explosive high-scoring offensive teams going at it in a possible late postseason preview.
In addition to scoring seemingly at will during their first six games, the Bobcats have also been exceptional on defense, but they have not seen an offense with weapons like those Brighton brings to town. That is, assuming the Bengals have everyone on the field after injuries have taken their toll.
Drew Jensen appears close to a return at quarterback for Brighton, but a non-region game probably calls for a healthy dose of Andrew Covey, who ran for 192 yards and passed for 235 in last week’s 51-49 loss to Jordan. The new injury was the shoulder issue suffered by star running back Sione Lund last week, but if he doesn’t go, the Bengals found some success with Kimball Reece in reserve a week ago as well.
The constant for Brighton is what happens if they get the ball anywhere in the vicinity of Simi Fehoko on the outside. He is the ultimate playmaker and he will be a test for the Sky View defense.
The Bengals have a ton of individually talented players on defense, but they have struggled against elite offenses and that could be an issue in this one as well. The Bobcats light it up through the air with Garrison Beach connecting with power tight end Bryce Mortensen and others such as Alex McRae.
Sky View is also able to run the ball as Beach has proven capable in that are as well, and is joined by big and powerful running back Mason Tye.
This game will give us a peek at how good that Bobcat defense really is and will let us know where both teams stands with the playoffs just a few weeks away.
Juab (2-0 3A South, 5-1 overall) at Canyon View (2-0, 5-1)
For different reasons, these appear to be the two teams that are the class of the 3A South region. Canyon View, because of its amazing ability to move the football and score points, and Juab because of its ability to stop its opponents from doing those things, are on a collision course this week.
The Falcons are the state’s No. 1 scoring offense, averaging 50 points per game. Jackson Vasi and Payton Higgins have combined for 1,650 yards rushing already and 24 touchdowns. Quarterback Michael Musto will run it and throw it, and does both well enough to cause all kinds of problems.
Ashton Seeley, Payton Bowring, Carson Johnson and the Wasp defense will have its hands full. Does great defense beat great offense? This game will provide some answers.
Desert Hills (1-1 3AA South, 2-3 overall) at Pine View (1-1, 4-1)
Thursday night’s Snow Canyon win over Dixie makes this game all the more important in the highly competitive 3AA South region. By the time Friday night is over, the league will have three teams at 2-1 and three at 1-2. With postseason berths going to just four teams, no one wants to be in the position of fighting back from 1-2, particularly not these two powerhouse programs.
The Thunder have played a brutal schedule to this point, so they should be prepared for whatever comes. Offensively, it all revolves around the running and passing of quarterback Nick Warmsley. Kobe Topalian will lead the Panther running attack, but Pine View would love to use Steve Bangerter on the outside to break some things loose.
Both of these teams have struggled to score points at times this year. Based on that trend, this has the look of a low-scoring game that could be decided by a turnover or a penalty at the wrong time and one of these defenses should be the factor that swings the final outcome.
Northridge (1-1 Region 1, 3-3 overall) at Fremont (1-2, 3-3)
The way Region 1 is trending, this one has the look of a playoff elimination game. It’s a battle between two Region 1 holdovers who are chasing the three newcomers from 4A in a very competitive league. The loser Friday may have a hard time getting back into the top four.
The Knights continue to ride electric quarterback Jrue Perkins by air and by land, with Cyrus Daniels providing the balance in the running game and also leading this team in receiving. As those two go, so goes Northridge, a team that will look to outscore you.
Fremont has not been dominant on defense, but that side of the ball is still a staple for the Silver Wolves. Kole Calvert and the Fremont defense will look to slow the Knight offense and then turn the game over Saxton Morby, one of the state’s most efficient passers and targets that include Haze Hadley, to make the plays that get Fremont back into position to challenge for the playoffs.
East (1-0 Region 5, 3-2 overall) at Bountiful (1-1, 3-3)
Whatever is happening, this matchup always seems to bring out the best in two solid programs. This has not been the typical Bountiful year as the Braves have struggled to score points (against some pretty talented defenses), but the defense has been pretty good.
East has played one of the most brutal non-region schedules imaginable, and you would think that prepares the Leopards for anything they see going forward. Kaden Simmonds and the Braves’ offense will need to get some things going against another very good East defense, but this is a Bountiful team that follows the lead of Max Tooley, Brandon Bott and that defense.
The Leopards have had a mixture of results, as they have proven capable of putting up a ton of points but have had some low scoring outputs against some outstanding opponents as well. East scored 54 last week against Bonneville, but it also allowed 31, so the Leopards are hard to read.
This might be the week the defenses have to come to play for both of these teams and the one that does probably takes home the win.