There are many versions of "big games."
For football fans across Utah Valley, pretty much every prep game on the slate this week meets the criteria of a big contest. The Lehi Pioneers and the Provo Bulldogs are the only local teams that don't have their postseason fate in their own hands. Every other team can either keep its postseason hopes alive or improve its playoff position or win a league championship outright with a victory on the final night of regular-season play.
PLEASANT GROVE AT AMERICAN FORK: The Vikings (4-0) can win the Region 4 title outright and finish league play with a perfect mark with a road victory Friday night. If the Cavemen win, the two teams will share the region crown but American Fork (3-1) will get the No. 1 seed into the playoffs. Both teams are guaranteed no worse than the No. 2 seed.
Pleasant Grove has become the master of close-game wins. The Vikings will certainly try to keep this game a low-scoring battle with a controlled offense that mixes the run with short passes. Using that strategy, the Vikings have still been a big-play team. LeSean Wilcox is one of the more explosive runners in the region, and quarterback Jared Keele has reliable accuracy and has more than one target that can come up with the big catch. Fullback Brian Schonbeck is steady on short-yardage situations.
The Cavemen have a few more weapons than the Vikings, with running backs Chris Wernli and Siosifa Militoni both having the capability to break loose for the long gain. Quarterback Taylor Jones has been effective this season in throwing the football when needed, and American Fork has one of the valley's most dangerous targets in Jake Murphy. The Cavemen would like to jump on top early and force the Vikings to play catch-up football.
Defensively, the Vikings have been a little more difficult to score on and have leaned on their defense to win more than one game this season. Forcing turnovers has also been a huge part of Pleasant Grove's arsenal. The Cavemen, on the other hand, have plenty of big and strong linemen and linebackers to match up with Pleasant Grove. American Fork has the talent and strength to make it difficult for the Vikings to control the clock and tempo.
A high-scoring game favors American Fork, while a grind-it-out game favors Pleasant Grove. Turnovers could be a huge factor in the outcome. If it comes down to a final possession, both teams have outstanding place kickers. The Cavemen's Eddie Holloway has a stronger leg, but the Vikings' Josue Meza might be a touch more accurate.
Rayburn's pick: American Fork
OREM AT MOUNTAIN VIEW: Starting the season, both teams knew a second-place finish was about as good as they were going to get in Region 7. The winner of this cross-town rivalry on Friday night will get the No. 2 seed while the loser will settle for the No. 3 seed.
The Bruins (4-1) are Utah Valley's biggest surprise, but at this point in the season their success is clearly no fluke. They have three powerful runners in Anthony Heimuli, Marcus Draper and T. J. Mounga, and have been successful all season at controlling the clock and tempo on the ground. When necessary, quarterback Mark Garrett has been effective throwing the ball. Mountain View also has a good front line on defense and one of the valley's top all-around players in linebacker/receiver/returner Greg May.
The Tigers (4-1) have struggled to be consistent but have been bailed out most of the time with the big-play running of Tucker Lamb. Orem, at times, has also looked good throwing the ball with Josh Hamblin having more than one reliable target. The Tigers' biggest asset might just be their linebacker corps, which has been outstanding at holding teams down and in preventing the big play.
If this game is not determined by turnovers, it might come down to the last possession.
Rayburn's pick: Mountain View
TIMPANOGOS AT LONE PEAK: This game, with both teams having 2-2 marks, will determine the No. 3 seed from Region 4. The loser also might face a play-in game for the league's No. 4 seed next Tuesday.
The Timberwolves are the league's top scoring team and have yet to find a league opponent that can shut down their powerful passing attack. Quarterback Christian Stewart has had a huge year throwing the ball to Grant Jimenez, Kevin Schade and Skyler Fairbanks. Running back Taylor Lyons is the fastest back in the valley and can burn teams running the football, catching it and returning kicks. Surprisingly, though, the T-Wolves have struggled to stop teams.
Lone Peak is the league's lowest-scoring team, so something has to give in this game. If the Knights, with running back Jordan Lowry pounding out yards, can control the tempo and clock, their chances are better. If they fall behind early they'll have to have a big game from sophomore quarterback Tannon Pedersen. Lone Peak has to protect the football and also has to force a turnover or two to keep the scoring down.
Rayburn's pick: Timpanogos
SPANISH FORK AT LEHI: The Pioneers (0-4) are the only Utah Valley team already eliminated from postseason. However, if Lehi can knock off Spanish Fork (1-3) at home Thursday night the Dons' season will be over as well. If Spanish Fork comes out on top, then the Dons will play the loser of the Timpanogos/Lone Peak game in a play-in game Tuesday at 5 p.m. on Lehi's field to determine the final postseason berth from Region 4.
The Dons have had most of their success this season throwing the ball. If they can avoid turnovers and mistakes, they should have no problem scoring against the Pioneers. But with nothing to lose, Lehi might pull out all the stops and avoid finishing all alone in the Region 4 cellar.
Rayburn's pick: Spanish Fork
PAYSON AT SPRINGVILLE: The Red Devils (2-3) can lock up the fourth and final playoff spot from Region 7 by beating the Lions (1-4) on Friday night. If the Lions win, however, the two teams will be facing a rematch play-in game next week. There's a slim chance that Provo could join that tie.
The Lions, with power back Leroy Unga and quarterback Misi Wolfgramm, have been a little more consistent at moving the football. To beat Springville they'll need to have several time-consuming drives and avoid turnovers.
The Red Devils have struggled to score but have the potential to put some points on the board with receiver Ben Doxey. This is a game in which Springville might finally see some consistency in its ground attack, especially considering how soft the Lions have played defensively the past few weeks.
Rayburn's pick: Springville
TIMPVIEW AT PROVO: The Thunderbirds (5-0) already have the No. 1 seed from Region 7 secured and at least a share of the league title. They can win it outright with a win over bitter-rival Provo. The Bulldogs (1-4) must win and then hope that Payson beats Springville, which would force a three-way play-in game for the league's No. 4 seed.
Rayburn's pick: Timpview
Rayburn's record: Last week, 7-0 ; overall, 55-15