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High School Football: 3AA quarterfinals highlight a possible changing of the guard

The 3AA Football classification is one of the most exciting in all of Utah high school football, with games that consistently go down to the wire resulting in some of the wildest finishes we've seen in recent years.

This year's playoffs appear to be no exception with last week's first-round games resulting in a few wild finishes and this week's quarterfinals appear to be much of the same. Despite the exciting games and wild finishes, the classification has been ruled by southern dominance which has claimed three of the last four 3AA state championships.

This season, however, has a different feel as schools from the northern region are threatening the rule the south schools have established.

The south has three of 3AA's top five teams: No. 1 Dixie, No. 2 Desert Hills, and No. 5 Pine View. All three teams will make appearances in the 3AA quarterfinals this week.

However the northern region actually outnumbers the teams the south has sent to the quarterfinals with the other five teams coming from the north, including two top five teams in No. 3 Tooele and No. 4 Stansbury, the team with the best record in the classification. The region's other participants are somewhat Cinderella stories with three teams not ranked in the classification's top five, led by first-year school Ridgeline, which is building off one of the best seasons by a first-year program team in recent memory (8-3 regular-season record). Bear River matched the Riverhawks' 8-3 record while also boasting the top defense in the class. But the biggest underdog from the north may be the Park City Miners, a team with a 6-5 record that survived a wild thriller against Cedar last week to advance to the quarterfinals.

The class' first quarterfinals matchup will pit the south's No. 1 Dixie against and the north's No. 3, Bear River. Many questions surround this matchup. Dixie quarterback Jacob Barben, who is arguably the best player in the class, suffered a season-ending foot injury during the Flyers bye week last week leaving the Flyers without their starting quarterback going into a game against the top-ranked defense in the class.

Desert Hills, the classification's second-ranked team, faces a stiff test against first-year school Ridgeline. The Thunder are led by running back Nephi Sewell who is regarded by many as one of the state's best athletes. Sewell missed a few games early in the year due to injury but still managed to lead the team in rushing with over 700 yards and helped the team to a 7-2 record and a second-place finish in the southern region. While first-year school Ridgeline is also powered by the ground game the only difference is that the Riverhawks boast one of the best running back duos in the state with Levani Damuni and Cody Olsen. The two have combined for over 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground.

The north's highest ranked team, Tooele, entered this year as a favorite to win the 3AA title. The Buffaloes ran through their schedule finishing the year with a 9-1 record and the North Region championship. The Buffaloes boast a potent rushing attack led by Lincoln Powers (1,400 yards, 15 touchdowns). The Buffaloes' opponent, fifth-ranked Pine View, are led by an equally dynamic rusher in Jacob Mpungi (1,184 yards & 13 TD) and a talented quarterback in Ryan Javines (1,770 yards & 18 TD).

The class' final quarterfinal matchup is a battle between two northern teams: fourth-ranked Stansbury and Park City. The Stallions, like the Buffaloes, boast a powerful rushing attack with three rushers with over 500 yards to their credit. The Stallions backfield is led by running back Matthew McIntyre and his brother quarterback Mitchell McIntyre. The brothers have combined for over 1,700 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns during the season. The Miners, meanwhile, are led by perhaps the most dynamic player in the classification, quarterback Spencer Zur who has over 3,000 yards of total offense and 25 touchdowns to his credit this year.