SYRACUSE (10-2) vs. ALTA (11-0)

Thursday, 2:30 p.m. — Rice-Eccles Stadium (field turf) — Salt Lake City

Ticket information: Students can purchase tickets from high school. Fans can purchase tickets at U. ticket office

TV: None — Radio: AM1230 — Parry's Power Guide — Alta by 15

This year's 5A Final Four features tradition-rich powers in Alta, Bingham, Skyline and ...

Syracuse?

Wait, who's Syracuse?

That's the question many casual high school football fans have been asking themselves since the second-year Titans earned a spot in the annual Rice-Eccles Stadium party. It seemingly took all season for Syracuse to earn statewide respect. But a second-place finish in Region 1, and two playoff victories have left no doubt about whether the Titans are the real deal.

Syracuse earned a spot on the turf, and plays reigning 5A champion Alta in the 5A semifinals on Thursday at 2:30 p.m.

"We're kind of like the misfits in this final four," Syracuse linebacker K.J. Medina said. "These are the usual contenders in Skyline, Bingham and Alta and we're up here with them. It just goes to show you that anybody can win at any time. And it just goes to show you that hard work can take you places where you want to go."

The Titans, who have improved from an 0-10 season in 2007, have been one of the feel-good stories of the 2008 season. But don't get all warm and fuzzy around them because they have a defense that will hit you in the mouth. Syracuse allowed just 9.9 points per game this season while defeating traditional powers such as Northridge and Davis.

"First of all, we're not talking about a Cinderella team here," Alta coach Les Hamilton said. "Cinderella is usually a team that overachieves and I don't think that's what they are."

Syracuse got here by beating Pleasant Grove 27-25 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Braden Hamblin to tight end Rick Reardon with 1.2 seconds left in their 5A quarterfinal matchup last week. The Vikings were ranked for most of the season, and the Titans' heart-stopping victory finally proved that they belong among the state's elite.

"They are a very, very good football team," Hamilton said. "They're solid defensively. Against PG they went up and down the field on one of the best defensive teams in the state. They're not a fluke. They deserve to be where they're at."

Facing the champion Hawks, however, will be a whole new ball game for the Titans. Alta has yet to lose to an in-state team this season. The Hawks have blown teams out, winning two games by 45 points apiece and shutting out four opponents. They've also proven to be a team that can never be counted out, as they rallied from deficits to defeat Bingham, Jordan and Davis.

"They have great athletes and a great coach and it's got them this far," Medina said. "We've been trying all year to show we're for real. For us to prove ourselves, we have to play the best and see how we measure up to them. I think we've proved to ourselves what we can do and what we're capable of. Now we have to do it against one of the best teams in the state."

SYRACUSE STATS

Scoring offense: 20.9 ppg

Scoring defense: 9.9 ppg

Passing leader: Braden Hamblin (126-221, 57%, 1,531 yards, 14 TDs)

Rushing leader: T.J. Blickfeldt (129 carries, 685 yards, 6 TDs)

Receiving leader: Rick Reardon (39 catches, 503 yards, 6 TDs)

Tackles leader: Josh Gooch (103 tackles)

Sacks leader: Brady Green (10.5)

Int. leader: T.J. Blickfeldt (3)

ALTA STATS

Scoring offense: 36.1 ppg

Scoring defense: 13.4 ppg

Passing leader: Ammon Olsen (161-252, 63.9%, 2,710 yards, 28 TDs)

Rushing leader: Alex Rivas (96 carries, 554 yards, 7 TDs)

Receiving leader: Parker Webster (49 catches, 990 yards, 10 TDs)

Tackles leader: Trey Phillips (75)

Sacks leader: Al Ho-Ching (12)

Int. leader: Zach Bigelow (4)

SYRACUSE TITANS DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE

QB ... BRADEN HAMBLIN ... 4

... Tanner Russell ... 3

FB ... JAMIN LEWIS ... 37

... Kayden Davies ... 47

RB ... T.J. BLICKFELDT ... 22

... Aaron Lawrence ... 25

WR ... AUSTIN THOMPSON ... 12

... Tanner Burton ... 7

WR ... TANNER RUSSELL ... 3

... Chris Smith ... 28

TE ... RICK REARDON ... 45

... Andrew Cook ... 80

LT ... JUSTIN HILL ... 65

... Austin Murray ... 74

LG ... CAMERON GALBRAITH ... 55

... Jake Dallimore ... 62

C ... BRYAN COOK ... 66

... Drew Mikkelsen ... 67

RG ... JAKE ANDERSON ... 50

... Nathan Cooper ... 77

RT ... AARON HILL ... 78

... Eric Grisby ... 79

PK ... JOSH KEALAMAKIA ... 14

... Igor Pinto ... 89

KR ... LAWRENCE AARON ... 25

... Aaron Van Voris ... 36

DEFENSE

DE ... DUSTIN GALLEGOS ... 52

... Andrew Cook ... 80

DT ... JAKE ANDERSON ... 50

... Jordan Sibert ... 56

DT ... JAKE DALLIMORE ... 62

... Cameron Galbraith ... 55

DE ... BRADY GREEN ... 81

... Aaron Hill ... 65

WLB ... K.J. MEDINA ... 5

... Andy Doney ... 53

MLB ... JOSH GOOCH ... 54

... Trenton Judd ... 32

SLB ... COLE CONNER ... 27

... Josh Coy ... 83

CB ... KALON EVANS ... 21

... Chris Jackson ... 24

CB ... CHRIS SMITH ... 28

... Austin Thompson ... 12

SS ... T.J. BLICKFELDT ... 22

... Alex Swanson ... 1

FS ... ZACH JACOBSEN ... 17

... Taylor Russell ... 33

P ... JOSH KEALAMAKIA ... 14

... Rhett Nyes ... 84

PR ... T.J. BLICKFELDT ... 22

... Lawrence Aaron ... 25

ALTA HAWKS DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE

QB ... AMMON OLSEN ... 4

... Jordan Brown ... 13

RB ... ALEX RIVAS ... 9

... Kava Afu ... 39

HB ... CHASE HERBERT ... 1

... Greg Peck ... 14

TE ... DRAKE ECKHOLDT ... 83

... Tyson Knowles ... 99

WR ... PARKER WEBSTER ... 10

... CJ Anderson ... 11

WR ... ZACK LISTON ... 20

... Seth Becerra ... 5

LT ... JORDAN BLACK ... 62

... David Smith ... 50

LG ... JAKE ALLEN ... 71

... David Smith ... 50

C ... PARKER ERICKSON ... 79

... Korey Sutton ... 67

RG ... LUNDON SMITH ... 75

... Korey Sutton ... 67

RT ... JOE HERKIMER ... 73

... Korey Sutton ... 67

PK ... ADAM FROGLEY ... 86

... Vance Johnson ... 90

KR ... PARKER WEBSTER ... 10

... ALEX RIVAS ... 9

DEFENSE

DT ... DAN ADAMS ... 54

... Brayden Lindley ... 51

NG ... SKYLER TAYLOR ... 52

... Beaver Ho'Ching ... 58

DE ... BRADY DAVIES ... 81

... Brock Handley ... 88

OLB ... PARKER HAUSKNECHT ... 49

... Devin Ellis ... 56

MLB ... GARRET SMART ... 55

... Nick Wolford ... 47

OLB ... AL HO'CHING ... 45

... Taylor Howard ... 42

CB ... RYAN LEE ... 2

... Cole Herman ... 25

CB ... CAMERON PUTNAM ... 31

... Cole Herman ... 25

SS ... ZACK BIGELOW ... 3

... Zack Smith ... 26

SS ... BRANDON WEISS ... 24

... Parker Morrison ... 28

FS ... TREY PHILLIPS ... 7

... Cole Herrmann ... 25

P ... PARKER WEBSTER ... 10

... Adam Frogley ... 86

PR ... PARKER WEBSTER ... 10

... Alex Rivas ... 9

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY

This is the first meeting between these two schools ... Alta is the defending 5A state champion and ranked No. 1 heading into the semifinals. The Hawks' only loss this year was on the road at Grant, Calif., but it narrowly squeaked past Davis in the quarterfinals ... Syracuse has been the Cinderella story of the 2008 season after posting an 0-10 record in the school's first year last year ... The Titans finished tied for second in Region 1 and beat Kearns and Pleasant Grove to advance to the semifinals.

SYRACUSE GAME-BY-GAME

08/22 ... Syracuse 31, Roy 6 ...

08/29 ... Syracuse 14, Woods Cross 0 ...

09/05 ... Syracuse 35, Mountain View 6 ...

09/12 ... Viewmont 13, Syracuse 7 ...

09/19 ... Syracuse 30, Weber 0 ...

09/26 ... Syracuse 16, Clearfield 9 ...

10/03 ... Syracuse 22, Northridge 16 (OT) ...

10/10 ... Layton 17, Syracuse 10 ...

10/15 ... Syracuse 7, Fremont 0 ...

10/24 ... Syracuse 10, Davis 9 ...

10/31 ... Syracuse 42, Kearns 18 ...

11/7 ... Syracuse 28, Pl. Grove 25 ...

ALTA GAME-BY-GAME

08/22 ... Alta 42, Spanish Fork 6 ...

08/29 ... Alta 27, Bingham 19 ...

09/05 ... Alta 28, Kearns 0 ...

09/12 ... Alta 21, Hunter 0 ...

09/20 ... Grant, Calif. 35, Alta 28 ...

09/26 ... Alta 45, Skyline 21 ...

10/03 ... Alta 45, Brighton 0 ...

10/10 ... Alta 38, Hillcrest 10 ...

10/15 ... Alta 45, Taylorsville 0 ...

10/24 ... Alta 38, Jordan 36 ...

10/31 ... Alta 55, Viewmont 14 ...

11/7 ... Alta 21, Davis 20

COACHING REPORT

Syracuse coach Russ Jones — After an 0-10 year in Syracuse's first year, Jones has the Titans in the semifinals. His career coaching record is 35-39 in seven seasons.

Alta coach Les Hamilton — In his four years at Alta, Hamilton has amassed a 45-9 record with four-straight semifinal appearances. His overall record is 58-20 in six seasons.


E-mail: aaragon@desnews.com