Maple Mountain has turned around its season in spectacular fashion, and now has a very well-earned spot in one of the 4A state semifinal games to be held at Rice-Eccles Stadium this Friday.
It's a position that was pretty much inconceivable back in mid-September, as the Golden Eagles got off to an 0-5 start on the season, the type of hole other teams may have had trouble digging out of. But the team rallied, won seven straight, and now has the opportunity to play at Rice-Eccles for the first time in program history.
It's an accomplishment well-noted by East coach Brandon Matich, who is preparing his team to take on Maple Mountain this Friday.
"That's awesome stuff, and it tells me that it's a team that fights, no matter what," Matich said. "It's a team that believes in itself, and you have to respect what they've done to get here."
For Maple Mountain coach Brad Burtenshaw, things started to click for his team during its fifth and final loss of the year to American Fork, a team that will be playing in the 5A state semifinals on Thursday. Although they ultimately lost 21-13, the players ultimately gained a sense that they could play with just about anyone.
"We were leading that game at the half, and even though we ended up losing, I really feel that's when things started to click for us," Burtenshaw said.
Seven straight wins testify strongly to Burtenshaw's clicking theory, with the team excited for the opportunity ahead.
"It's a tribute to our kids and how they've worked and how they've rallied around one another," Burtenshaw said. "It's a position we've never been in before, but, man, it's going to be an enormous challenge for us this week against East."
'Enormous challenge' may be an enormous understatement.
The Leopards enter Friday's semifinals with a perfect 12-0 record, which includes two wins over national powerhouses De La Salle (California) and Pulasky Academy (Arkansas) They're led by dominant line play and prolific running back Jaylen Warren.
"They have athletes across the board — the best athletes we'll have faced this year," Burtenshaw observed. "We'll have to take our shots and hope for the best, but yeah, we're definitely aware of the challenge ahead of us."
For East, it encountered a huge challenge during last week's 47-34 quarterfinal win over Timpview. The Leopards won despite committing six turnovers in the first half and had to fight to the very end, unlike the better part of the season.
"It was a good punch in the mouth for us and probably a good thing to have that happen before playing at Rice-Eccles," Matich said. "I think our true character shined through in that game and I'm very proud of how we fought through our mistakes and came out on top of a very good Timpview team."
For the Golden Eagles, they'll look to be opportunistic, while realizing the big challenge ahead.
"We have a very resilient team and we'll need to be resilient against a team like East," Burtenshaw said. "Like I said, it's going to be an enormous challenge, but hopefully we go in there prepared and ready to give it our best shot, and just hope for the best."
East and Maple Mountain kick off at 11 a.m. MST time this Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
East (12-0) vs. Maple Mountain (7-5)
Series history: first meeting.
Coach vs. coach: First meeting between East’s Brandon Matich and Maple Mountain’s Brad Burtenshaw.
Current winning streaks: East – 21 (a current state-high), Maple Mountain – 7.
East’s last semifinal: 2015, slammed Springville 42-14 en route to the state title.
Maple Mountain’s first semifinal appearance.
East’s playoff record (44th appearance in 103 seasons): 58-27-2.
Brandon Matich’s playoff record (11th appearance, including four in five seasons at Park City and seventh in seven seasons at East): 20-9, including 4-4 at Park City (2005-09) and 16-5 at East (since 2010). Semifinal record: 3-3, including 0-2 at Park City and 3-1 at East. One state championship, at East, 2015.
Maple Mountain’s playoff record (fifth appearance in eight seasons): 2-4.
Brad Burtenshaw’s playoff record (fifth appearance in eight seasons): 2-4; first semifinal.
Extra Point 1: A victory by East gives the Leopards 13 wins, tying with the 1996 and 2013 teams for the most in school history.
Extra Point 2: East’s 21-game winning streak is tied (with three others) for the 15th longest streak in Utah prep history.
Extra Points 3: Maple Mountain lost its first five games, then turned around and won its last seven.