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A year later, three defending state champions have become underdogs. Such is life in Utah high school football, where 18 different squads have captured gold trophies over the last four seasons.

Repeats have failed to materialize since that time (1991) when North Summit ended a three-year 1A title reign and Bountiful capped back-to-back 3A crowns.Is a reversal of fortune in the cards for 1995? Perhaps. Though the road to repeating appears as tough as ever.

Orem , Uintah and Kanab open their postseason defenses away from home this weekend. Despite the hurdle, all three remain confident, if not downright defensive.

"In some ways I think our kids have an advantage," said Orem coach Paul Clark. "We're going to give it all we got."

The Tigers, who have reached the finals each of the last two seasons, travel to Hunter Friday at 7 p.m. Orem finished third in Region 4 after setbacks to Brighton and American Fork. All three teams spent time atop the Deseret News rankings this season - a position currently held by Skyline.

"I really believe that there are eight teams good enough to get hot and win it," said Clark. "We think we've got a shot to get hot and do it, at least we hope so."

'Tis the season for optimism.

"It's going to take a better team (to dethrone us)," said Uintah coach Curg Belcher, whose team has won five straight after an 0-4 start. "We are playing as well as we can right now."

Though it took a three-way tiebreaker victory on Tuesday to get the Utes back in the postseason, Belcher is confident his team can defeat top-ranked Snow Canyon (9-0) Saturday, 1 p.m., in St. George.

"I'm not worried about defending the title. I'm excited about playing Snow Canyon because I honestly think we can beat them," said Belcher. "They are deserving of the top ranking and record. You don't win that many games on a fluke. But I honestly don't think there is a clear-cut favorite in 3A this year.

"Anyone can be upset," he added. "I just don't think there is a dominating team in 3A."

Parity also appears prevalent in the 2A ranks, according to Kanab coach Rod Quarnberg.

"There are eight pretty good teams in the tournament, but I feel like our kids are ready to step up to defend it," he said. "I feel like it's going to take some work to get it away from us."

The Cowboys visit Millard Friday, 7 p.m., in the 2A quarterfinals. The contest is one of 21 playoff games slated across the state. Four others are set for Saturday.