Semifinal matchups approach at the end of this week for the remaining teams from 4A-1A and the eight-player classification, and there are a few interesting storylines to catch as 20 teams vie for a chance this Friday to play in one of five state football championship games on Nov. 11.
Here are four storylines to watch in the upcoming semifinal weekend.
Mountain Crest, the lone underdog
In most classifications, the RPI system just about got it right in the end, as the 3A, 2A, 1A and 8-player brackets all have semifinal matchups set predictably between the No. 1 and the No. 4 team on one side, and the No. 2 and No. 3 team on the other.
In 4A, however, the Mountain Crest Mustangs were the lone team to break the mold as the No. 6 team, upsetting No. 3 Dixie, 28-21, to earn a semifinal bid. While sitting at 8-4 on the season, it’s just another way that the Mustangs have subverted expectations after a rough 2-9 campaign last season. They’ll be the apparent underdogs going into a matchup down at Southern Utah University against No. 2 Desert Hills Saturday night at 7 p.m., but that’s a label Mustangs coach Ryan Visser said they’re just fine with.
“(We’re) kind of used to it,” Visser said. “We had zero expectations to do anything this year by anyone outside our program. We’ve just focused on ourselves and tried to be the best Mountain Crest can be throughout the season. We have a new staff and a lot of learning and growing on the journey. We always felt like 4A is wide open and the team playing the best ball at the end will be lifting up the trophy. We’re excited to play a very talented Desert Hills team this week.”
Speaking of Mountain Crest …
Juab’s record-setting quarterback
Juab senior quarterback Alex Jackson has been on a tear through 3A in his last ride as a Wasp. He most recently tossed his 102nd career passing touchdown, putting him past Mountain Crest legend Alex Kuresa (101) for sixth all-time in career passing TDs.
Jackson also hit the record books in a three-way tie for eighth in single season passing touchdowns with 49, and he’s only 766 passing yards away from breaking into the top 10 for single-season passing yards, and only 514 yards from hitting the top 10 in career passing yards.
“Alex is a three-year starter, so we have watched his growth each year,” Juab coach Mike Bowring said. “His work ethic is unreal, and we have expected him to play at this level. We are proud of what he has accomplished.”
With an undefeated 11-0 record, it’s seemed likely all season that the Wasps were on a crash course with Morgan or Grantsville in the championship game, but they’ll have one more game to go before getting there, and it’s a team making history of its own …
Here come the Falcons
The No. 4 Canyon View Falcons entered this season with a prediction to finish in the bottom half of the 3A South and had not seen a winning season in 22 years. Saturday night will see the most surprising team of 3A take on the No. 1 Wasps, with the Falcons getting their first-ever shot at a semifinal game in the school’s history.
“Our team is very excited to have the opportunity to play in the semifinals this Saturday,” Canyon View coach Burke Miller said. “Canyon View has never been to a semifinal game. Our team is proud to be the first, but we aren’t satisfied with just playing in the game. We want to win the game. We are excited to have a good week of practice and get ready to play a good Juab team.”
Standing on an 8-3 record, Canyon View has excelled at making big plays this season with talented receivers Nick Macias, Andrew Barnes and Traie Buhler. The three have combined for 133 catches for 2,157 yards and 25 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Jaxon Jensen has been a marvelous talent in his own right with 33 passing touchdowns to only six interceptions.
Between Jensen and Jackson leading their offenses, this Saturday morning 3A matchup could be a real treat.
And speaking of making history ...
Gunnison Valley leads the eight-player pack
For many schools participating in the first-ever UHSAA eight-player football championship playoffs, the news classification and play style simply gave them an opportunity to have a football team. Gunnison Valley already had that, but the new classification gave Bulldogs fans an opportunity to believe in their football team.
After 32 years of struggling to field a winning program, Gunnison Valley not only finished this season with a winning record of 6-4 — only the second winning season in school history — but they laid claim to the No. 1 seed in the eight-player bracket and already have regular season wins over two of the other three teams left. The advent of eight-player football in the state turned the Bulldogs from a perennial cellar-dweller in 1A to a team with a viable shot at a state championship.
“As a program, we have always had to fight uphill,” Gunnison Valley coach Patrick King said. “We have a lot of hope that having the top seed will give us some advantages as the playoffs continue. In every game, you want your boys to have a chance. We have a chance to finish a terrific season very strong.”
The Bulldogs take on Water Canyon at SUU on Thursday morning at 9 a.m.