SALT LAKE CITY — The 2A North region was regarded as the weakest of the two in 2A last season, and that’s exactly how it played out.

With all six teams qualifying for the playoffs under the new RPI qualifying format, Duchesne was the only northern team to advance to the quarterfinals.

Of the five teams who lost in the first round, only North Summit’s loss to North Sevier was remotely close. The other games were incredibly lopsided.

Heading into the 2020 season, the southern region should be dominant again, but returning experience gives northern teams hope of narrowing the gap.

While Duchesne was projected by the 2A North coaches as the team to beat, the other five teams in the region all have a big chunk of returning starters. That extra year of experience and bulk should help make North Summit, Monticello, Layton Christian, Gunnison Valley and Rich much more competitive this season.

Ironically enough, Duchesne is the 2A North team with the least returning experience, particularly on the offensive line with only one starter back.

“Question marks for us will be up front like usual,” said Duchesne coach Jerry Cowan.

Defensively, Brock Adams, Kaleb Sanchez, Jaxon Morlan and Tristan Farnsworth are the lone returning starters from a very good defense a year ago. Even though Duchesne lost to Beaver in the semifinals, it only lost 14-7, which is impressive considering that Beaver won its other 12 games by at least 30 points.

Conversely, Duchesne was never tested in its five region games either.

In fact, the only team to score in the first half against Duchesne was North Summit in the 41-14 win.

This year’s showdown could be much closer as the Braves return nine starters on offense and eight on defense.

“We’re going to have to win those battles up front and run the ball to set up the pass. The run-and-gun stuff, that’s never been North Summit. We have to make sure we win those battles in the trenches,” said North Summit coach Gary Crittenden. “Everybody says you go where the line takes you, and that couldn’t me more true for us.”

High school football 2020 preview schedule for all 108 teams, all 16 regions

Crittenden had high praise for his group of seniors, who endured a winless season as sophomores but just kept plugging away and now could be very competitive in 2A.

Monticello checks in at No. 3 in the 2A North preseason rankings, buoyed by six returning offensive starters and eight defensive starters.

Coach Reed Anderson said he started a lot of first-year players a year ago, and he said it took the entire season for the players to truly latch on the basics.

“We hope this year to move past simple football instruction to get into how to work as a team. This team will start lots of juniors and seniors that had to step up last year and play that had never played the sport before,” said Anderson.

Layton Christian has a new coach as Scott Feldman is taking over, and with a young team — including some who have never played football — his team could experience some of the growing pains that Monticello did last year.

“So the biggest thing on the defensive side is to get these kids to truly learn the game. To me, defense is so much more intricate because of the coverages and how you have to do everything. There’s a lot more to learn,” said Feldman.

Gunnison Valley finished fourth in 2A North a year ago, and with seven starters back on offense and eight on defense, second-year coach Patrick King is hoping to lead his team to a top three finish.

Rich suffered through a winless season to finish last in the region a year ago, but coach Justin Groll said he started many underclassmen last season. The bulk of those players are back, and with eight offensive starters returning and seven defensive, Groll said he’s excited about the potential of his team.

Deseret News projections for 2A North football teams in 2020

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

  1. DUCHESNE: Has reached at least the semifinals in five straight seasons, including last year despite getting bumped up to 2A against some tougher competition. A sixth straight trip will depend on how well the newcomers on the offensive line get acclimated. Dylan Newell is the only starter back on the line. Cameron Brady was a part-time starter at QB a year ago, and he’ll be counted on to take on a larger role. Brock Adams (RB/DE) and Kaleb Sanchez (RB/LB) will be key contributors on both sides of the ball. 2019 RECORD: 10-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Beaver in 2A semifinals.
  2. NORTH SUMMIT: With nine starters back on offense, it should be able to improve on its seventh-ranked scoring offense in 2A from a year ago. Leading the way offensively is returning starter QB Beau Woolstenhulme, and then four returning O-linemen, Chase Dawson, Matagi Fa’avale, Ryker Johnson and Brett Rees. Defensively, Fa’avale is a returning all-state defensive lineman who will clog the middle of the field. Quinton Jones will also be a key contributor on the line, while Dakota Jones will help anchor the linebacking corps. 2019 RECORD: 6-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to North Sevier in 2A first round.
  3. MONTICELLO: The strength for the Buckaroos should be in the trenches with four defensive lineman contributors back from last season, along with three offensive linemen. Quarterback Devin Hatch is a returning starter on offense, but many of the skill position players around him are inexperienced. Anchoring the defense with be standout linebackers Brevin Olson and Robert Musselman. 2019 RECORD: 6-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Kanab in 2A first round.
  4. LAYTON CHRISTIAN: Scott Feldman is taking over as head coach and despite the frustration of COVID-19 this summer, he said it’s been a great summer for the program. Offensively, the strength of the team will be on the line as Seisoni Felila, Sionatane Latu, Bill Lenidrik and Faemani Vaitaki are all returning starters. 2019 RECORD: 2-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Enterprise in 2A first round.
  5. GUNNISON VALLEY: Ranked second-to-last in 2A scoring defense last season, but should be much improved this season with eight starters back. That group includes six of its top seven tacklers from a year ago, led by Zach Stewart and Dylan Anderson at linebackers. Offensively, Stewart figures to be the primary weapon offensively at running back while Jack Hansen should play a key role as well. 2019 RECORD: 3-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Parowan in 2A first round.
  6. RICH: The 2019 season was a rough one for Rich, but it should be better on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the strength of the team should be at linebacker as Ryker Conk, Jaidyn Groll and Jaedon Rowe are all returning starters. The offense will lean on returning starter QB Riley Carrillo, and then four starters on the offensive line, Justin Adams, Riley Taylor, Colton Johnson and Hayden Weston. 2019 RECORD: 0-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Duchesne in 2A first round.