High school football: Timpview, Bountiful each look to break trends facing off in 5A championship game
Everything you need to know about the 5A high school championship football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday.
When No. 1 Timpview and No. 10 Bountiful take to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday night to vie for the 5A state championship, both will do so with the intent to change some narratives.
The winner of the matchup is either a team that hasn’t won a state title in nine years, or a team that hasn’t won it in 20.
The Thunderbirds enter the matchup as a heavy favorite, not only because they had the No. 1 spot in the playoff, but also because Parry’s Power Guide rates them nearly 17 points higher than Bountiful. For comparison, Corner Canyon and Skyridge, the two teams vying for the 6A title that same afternoon, are just 6.3 points apart.
Timpview coach Donny Atuaia, now in his second season as head coach, is keeping his players focused less on the Redhawks and more on being the best they can be themselves.
“The focus all year for the team has been to focus on us,” Atuaia said. “How we are progressing with our expectations. It’s easy to focus on the opponent and what they do. What we have been doing is making sure that we improve on the goals we’ve set for ourselves first. That’s our mindset at this time.”
Yet a certain trend dangles over Timpview’s head, namely an 0-4 record in state championship games since the Thunderbirds beat Roy for the 4A title in 2014. They lost to East in 4A in 2015, lost back-to-back 5A title games in 2019 and 2020 and then fell in triple-overtime to now-6A Lehi in 2022.
There are a handful of programs in the state where a nine-year title drought is less than acceptable, and Timpview is definitely, but Atuaia said the Thunderbirds haven’t lost a bit of support over it.
“It’s great when you can handle urgency with the support of the community,” Atuaia said. “Our team this year has had the most support from the community in all my years at Timpview. Having said that, we as a team and a community family are not so much thinking of the past, but working together to accomplish the task in front of us.”
As a No. 10 seed in the tournament up against the top-seeded team, Bountiful bears the distinction of being the biggest underdog in a state championship seeding-wise since the RPI era began in 2019. Their seed is tied with 2019 Timpview for the second-lowest seed to make a state championship game in that span.
Were Bountiful to upset the T-Birds on Friday, it would be the first time in the RPI era that a double-digit seed has ever won a playoff game against the No. 1 seed.
“Timpview is a great team and we are honored to take the field with them,” Bountiful coach Jason Freckleton said. “Playing the underdog role can be fun, and we will play into that with a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality.”
For Bountiful, this title run was unexpected to perhaps all but the team and staff itself.
“Honestly, we knew coming into this season we had a great group, with a lot of potential,” Freckleton said. “We believed we had the right players and coaches to make a run and win a state championship. We played a tough nonregion schedule and then in a tough region. Each week was a battle. We had some good wins and some close losses that we learned from and each week worked on getting a little better. We know we are playing our best football at the right time and the players have a lot of belief in each other. We accept the underdogs label, but we are a dangerous group, and we will focus on playing Bountiful football.”
Owing to their dominance of 5A this season, Timpview’s players are strewn across the statistical leaderboards, but none quite so prominently as quarterback Helaman Casuga. The sophomore leads all of 5A in total passing yardage with 3,904 yards and is third in touchdown passes with 31. His effectiveness is well-supported by a deep receiver corps led by Tei Nacua, the younger brother of Los Angeles Rams rookie receiver Puka Nacua. Tei has pulled in nine TD catches this season with 892 receiving yards. Senior receiver Quezon Villa and sophomore Kennan Pula have been reliable targets as well.
Bountiful is a solid offensive team, but what Freckleton has become known for in his four years leading the team has been some gritty defense. That philosophy wasn’t as prevalent this year as in the past, but it roared back in the early rounds of the tournament as the Redhawks squashed Cedar Valley, 51-7, before shutting out Carson Su’esu’e and the Granger Lancers in an upset, 42-0. After surviving a shootout against Springville, Bountiful again delivered on defense in a 20-19 dogfight against Alta.
Especially where Timpview and Casuga are concerned, the Redhawks thrive in the secondary and are a menace to opposing quarterbacks. Senior Faletau Satuala and junior Britton Tidwell have combined for 12 interceptions. Tidwell has three just in these playoffs.
Bountiful also carries another notable distinction. The Redhawks’ appearance in the title game breaks a nine-year drought of title game appearances for the plethora of 5A/6A schools in Davis and Weber County. Roy’s title run in 4A in 2014 (ironically lost to Timpview) was the last time. Bountiful’s breaking of the trend has given the Redhawks some outspoken support across the area as they take on one of the biggest “blue-blood” programs in the state.
“It’s a pretty cool thing for our guys to be playing in the community they grew up in and live in, with many playing little league together and dreaming of this opportunity one day,” Freckleton said. “Now, we are here, and we take pride in being built in Bountiful. We know this is a special opportunity, and we will enjoy it and plan to make the most of it.”
The two teams have very little history, just facing off once before all-time when Timpview beat Bountiful in the 4A quarterfinals in 2015.
Bountiful will suit up as the away team against Timpview when the two take to the field at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.