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High school football: There's optimism abounding heading into 1A semifinals

There’s a different mood surrounding the 1A state tournament heading into Friday’s semifinals at Weber State.

Last year’s feelings of inevitability regarding a Diamond Ranch state title have been replaced by uncertainty and optimism for all four teams.

Don’t be mistaken, there’s still a favorite this week, Kanab, and a sizable underdog, Milford, but none of the four teams are secretly resigned to their fate.

“If Rich beats Kanab this year or Milford beats us I don’t think it would be a shock to anyone, whereas some years that probably would’ve been,” said Duchesne coach Jerry Cowan.

The semis get underway at 11 a.m. on Friday with upstart Milford facing 1A North region champion Duchesne, followed at 1:30 p.m. by Rich against 1A South region champ Kanab.

Both games are rematches of previous meetings, with Duchesne beating Milford 35-9 in Week 1 and Kanab beating Rich 14-0 in Week 5.

Kanab doesn’t have that same aura of invincibility as Diamond Ranch had a season ago, but last year’s runner-up is a slight favorite nonetheless after beating the other three semifinalists this season.

“Little less stress this year than previous years, a little more experience in the locker room. I think our kids are more prepared for the big games just from the experience they have,” said Kanab coach Bucky Orton. “They’re not overconfident, but definitely confident. I’m liking where we’re at right now.”

Kanab’s offense struggled for three quarters in its previous win over Rich this season, and Orton said it’s important his players match the intensity of Rich from the opening kick to avoid a potential letdown.

Of the four semifinalists, Rich’s offense has been the least productive this season, a big reason why it can’t afford special teams hiccups like in the previous game against Kanab.

“Their special teams hurt us a little bit. They had two big punt returns and that kind of turned the game, so we’ve got to do better on special teams,” said Rich coach Ashley Brown.

On paper, the other semifinal seems like a mismatch. While Milford is making its first semifinal appearance since 1999, Duchesne has won six region championships and five state championships during that same stretch.

Milford isn’t the same team it was in Week 1. Late in the fourth quarter of that loss to Duchesne, the coaching staff handed the QB reins to freshman Bryson Barnes, and he’s steadily gotten better each week.

Three weeks ago he was instrumental in Milford’s first-ever win over Monticello, came up big in a 42-0 win over Diamond Ranch in Week 10 and then again in the quarterfinals against Layton Christian last week.

“It’s a pretty exciting time at Milford High right now,” said Milford coach Thayne Marshall.

Limiting Duchesne’s big plays will be key on Friday.

“We felt like the first game we played against Duchesne we felt good about the way we played we just gave up four great big plays, two punt returns, big screen, big run,” said Marshall. “Other than that we felt we played right with them.”

Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: jedward@deseretnews.com