COVID-19 had an effect on every high school football team in the state, some definitely more than others.
For Orem, there were stretches of the season where, because of cancellations, it probably didn’t even feel like football season as the Tigers went 41⁄2 weeks without playing a game.
“It was a challenge for us as coaches to keep them focused, to keep their spirits up. You could see a bit of defeatist attitude in some of the kids as we went through it,” said Orem interim coach Gabe Sewell.
The Tigers showed obvious rust once they finally returned to action in week 10, narrowly beating Lehi 31-28. Since then, however, the swagger has returned in easy playoff wins over Provo and Skyline.
Orem heads into this Friday’s 5A semifinal against Maple Mountain as the team to beat again in its quest for a fourth straight state championship.
“The last two weeks, we’ve found our way back to Tiger playoff football,” said Sewell, whose team has won 15 straight playoff games. “At the end of the day, they all still have tunnel vision on hanging another banner and getting four in a row going here.”
Orem’s 15-game playoff winning streak is tied with Timpview (2012-2015) for the third-longest all-time, and with two more wins it would tie Timpview (2006-2009) for the second-longest streak in state history.
Defensively, this year’s Orem team hasn’t been as smothering as years past, as it ranks 11th in 5A allowing 22.3 points per game, but the offense hasn’t skipped a beat in recent weeks, scoring 65 against Provo and 49 against Skyline.
While Orem always expected to be back in the semifinals despite some regular season obstacles, Maple Mountain had similar high expectations heading into the 2020 season.
“We have a really good group of seniors, and they were hungry and motivated and wanted to improve on what we’d done last year, so that kind of provided the motivation and then you added a little experience and good skill and it mixed well together,” said Maple Mountain coach Brad Burtenshaw.
Another galvanizing factor in Maple Mountain’s first semifinal appearance since 2016 is the presence of Bryson McQuivey. He was expected to be a contributor this season, but he’s been sidelined all season after starting treatments for an aggressive form of sarcoma cancer back in February.
He served as Maple Mountain’s captain in the pregame coin toss in last week’s quarterfinal win over Alta.
“He’s an amazing kid and he wants to be around the team and he wants to help,” said Burtenshaw.
To have a shot at upsetting Orem, Burtenshaw said the simple fundamentals are so important.
“Orem is as good as they are because of their blocking and tackling. They’re just studs up front and they move people around and they put pressure on quarterbacks, and for us to be able to match them and compete, we have to do those two things right. I know it sounds really basic, but a missed tackle against Orem is a 70-yard play,” said Burtenshaw.
Maple Mountain will likely be without starting quarterback Tyler Nelson who injured his knee in the second quarter against Alta last week.
Junior Hunter Bezzant replaced him against Alta, and will be the likely starter against Orem.
Regardless of who starts for Maple Mountain, Orem’s coaching staff knows the Golden Eagles are a talented team that can’t be overlooked.
“They say 80% of your production comes from 20% of your roster, and they have a great 20% of their roster. They really have some guys who play both ways who do a lot for them,” said Sewell.
Maple Mountain statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 34.5 ppg (3rd in 5A)
Scoring defense: 20.7 ppg (7th in 5A)
Passing leader: Tyler Nelson (162-291, 55.7%, 2,271 yards, 28 TDs)
Rushing leaders: Thomas Weight (121 carries, 882 yards, 8 TDs), Tyler Nelson (89 carries, 497 yards 9 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Brian Bess (47 rec., 741 yards, 4 TDs), Kyson Hall (33 rec., 536, 8 TDs)
Tackles leaders: Derek Blanthorn (83 tackles), Cam Simons (60 tackles)
Sack leaders: Trevin Hubbard (12 sacks)
Interception leaders: Aedan Seiuli, Bryson Bliss (2 INTs)
Orem statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 33.1 ppg (4th in 5A)
Scoring defense: 22.3 ppg (11th in 5A)
Passing leader: Micah Fe’a (12 TDs)
Rushing leaders: Joe Smith (8 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Joe Smith (4 TDs)
Tackles leaders: Jayden AhYou (85 tackles), Joe Smith (51 tackles)
Sack leaders: Jayden AhYou (16 sacks)
Felts Facts for Maple Mountain High School
All-time record: 58-75 (12 years)
Region championships: 1 (2020 co)
Playoff appearances: 8
All-time playoff record: 4-7
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0-0
Felt’s Facts for Orem High School
All-time record: 534-310-21 (92 years)
Region championships: 28 (1935 co, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970 co, 1974, 1985 co, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996 co, 2000 co, 2004-co, 2012, 2013 co, 2017, 2018, 2020 co)
Playoff appearances: 56
All-time playoff record: 63-47
State championships: 8 (1962, 1968, 1994, 2017, 2018, 2019)
State championship record: 8-7