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Quarterfinal showdown — 5A playoffs to offer plenty of interest and intrigue

A quick glance at the 5A playoff schedule this week makes it obvious that the BCS did not have anything to do with the pairings.

For instance:

A three-win Pleasant Grove squad squares off against West Jordan, with the winner making a first-ever semifinal football appearance.

The two best teams in the state — No. 1 Bingham vs. No. 2 Brighton — have a second-week match-up, which would be like seeing USC and Texas go at it in early December instead of early January.

The no-longer-defending champion (Davis) didn't even qualify for the playoffs, and the only two big-classification schools alive who've won titles in the past decade — Hunter (2003) and Skyline (1995-99) — are pitted in the quarterfinals.

Though logic seems to be missing, this week's round of eight 5A games certainly have plenty of interest and intrigue.

On the other hand, while anything can happen in the playoffs — just asked ranked teams like Bountiful and Lone Peak who now have to watch postseason action from the stands after first-round upsets — the 4A quarterfinals just don't appear to have the same juicy showdowns.

Two powerhouses — Mountain Crest and Cottonwood — play teams with losing records in the lower bracket in should-be blowouts. The upper bracket could provide some suspense, as East and Orem are playing well and could challenge favored Timpview and Highland, respectively. The Leopards and Tigers did have to win road games in Round 1 to advance, after all.

Here's a brief look at this week's quarterfinal action from the biggest classification:

PLEASANT GROVE (3-8) AT WEST JORDAN (8-3), Friday, 6 p.m.: If you're like many football followers, you might be asking yourself, "Who are these guys and how did they get this far?" Many are especially wondering where those Cinderella Vikings emerged from.

After only picking up a pair of regular-season victories — and just one in region play — they have won three straight postseason games. Well, sort of. To qualify for the playoffs, they had to beat Timpanogos and Mountain View in one of those wacky back-to-back two-quarter WrestleMania-esque play-in contests. Then they pulled off a huge shocker by holding Jordan's high-flying offense at bay. Kyler Frampton and Mitch Sanderson are their top scoring threats.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, are quietly putting together quite the impressive-albeit-unheralded season. West Jordan will look to dominate on the ground against these Vikings like it did against the ones from Viewmont last week. The Jags rushed for 256 yards and held possession of the ball for 34 of the 48 minutes in their 14-7 first-round win.

Not many teams pack a 1-2 running punch like West Jordan does. Mike Meifu has amassed 1,073 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, and Anthony Tincher has rushed for 924 yards while accounting for 17 total TDs. Quarterback Ryan Wilson (871 yards passing, 425 yards rushing) and Scott Leach (519 yards rushing) give West Jordan a couple more weapons. This is the Jags' first trip to the quarterfinals in a decade; a win would put them in the semis for the first time in school history.

SKYLINE (6-5) AT HUNTER (9-1), Friday, 3:30 p.m.: There was a time earlier this season when many would have picked this for a possible championship game. And, heck, two weeks ago, many also guessed the Eagles wouldn't even make it out of the first round.

Though they've had completely different seasons — the Wolverines have clobbered everybody they've played but Bingham, and the Eagles were on a four-game losing skid before upsetting Lone Peak last week — this game could be a barnburner.

The two teams have split their last four games. Hunter, no doubt, would love to avenge its 41-0 drubbing to the Eagles from a year ago, and Skyline seniors certainly still remember the 23-15 loss to the Wolverines in the 2003 title tilt.

Skyline quarterback Matt Marshall had a good first-round game and has been a steady player for the Eagles, who've had good offensive production (31-point scoring average) but have uncharacteristically struggled on defense (23.9 points against). Marshall has rushed for 940 yards, passed for 711 yards and accounted for 21 touchdowns. Toa Taeoalii is another tough player to stop.

Hunter coach Wes Wilcken has a wide variety of offensive weapons in his arsenal that will give Skyline coach Roger DuPaix's squad a defensive challenge. The Wolverines are averaging a 5A-best 43.22 points. Soni Sotele is Hunter's go-to guy with 1,164 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. Chris Laloni (783 yards, 15 TDs) and Shawn Asiata (500 yards, 10 TDs) give the Wolverines some talented backfield options.

BRIGHTON (9-1) AT BINGHAM (10-0), Friday, 3 p.m.: File this in the "It's-a-shame-this-is-a-quarterfinal-game" category. But because Brighton lost a game to Alta and a coin flip to the co-Region 2 champion Hawks and Beetdiggers, we have this doozy two weeks too early.

Not only is it a match-up of powerhouse teams, this is a tantalizing showdown between perhaps the two top running backs in the state as well.

BYU-bound Mike Hague carried the Bengals in their road win over American Fork last week, rushing for a touchdown, returning a kickoff to paydirt and picking off two passes. An amazing outing for most, but merely another ho-hum game for the brilliant blue-chipper who hasn't stopped impressing since taking the opening handoff of the season 63 yards for a touchdown. In 10 games, he's rushed for more than 1,700 yards and scored 29 touchdowns. But, get this, he's pencilled in as a future defensive back for the Cougars.

Bingham's Jonathan Cuff isn't chopped liver compared to Hague, though. The Miners' stellar running back has piled up 1,316 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging more than 45 yards a punt to boot. He had a 74-yard touchdown run in the Miners' closer-than-expected first-round victory over playoff nemesis Northridge.

Bingham coach Dave Peck calls Cuff a "phenomenal athlete." Brighton coach Tom Cushing describes his stud as being "very high-energy" with "a high-running motor."

Best part? They both have great supporting casts. Bingham's offense, led by all-state quarterback Stetson Peck (1,303 yards passing, 13 TDs), and its stingy, stifling defense are both ranked No. 2 in production for/against in 5A. The Miners average 38.44 points while only allowing 12.56 a contest. Brighton's offense, also sparked by quarterback Matt Marietta and receiver Mike Hicken, and defense are each ranked No. 3. The Bengals put up 37.11 points an outing and give up just 13.78 points.

ALTA (8-3) AT FREMONT (8-2), Friday, 3 p.m.: The Silver Wolves haven't lost a home playoff game in eight tries, but the high-flying Hawks seem as capable as any team to be able to put an end to that streak.

Alta has reeled off wins in eight of nine games, the only loss coming from rival Jordan in a fourth-quarter comeback. By the way, the Hawks' roll includes impressive victories over four still competing playoff teams: Brighton, Skyline, Orem (4A) and Logan (3A).

The Hawks are powered by the outstanding play of thunder-lightning running backs Boston Walbeck (832 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns) and Austyn Whittenburg (668 yards rushing, eight TDs) and the steady output of quarterback Steve Bowen (1,277 yards passing, 51.6 percent efficiency, 18 TDs).

Alta's defense will be tested by Fremont's passing attack. Quarterback Greyden Morin has one of the state's top targets in Austin Raught, who's racked up 1,041 yards receiving so far this season.


E-mail: jody@desnews.com