SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of Morgan’s path to the 3A state championship last year was a trio of Region 14 teams. It started with Manti in the quarterfinals, North Sanpete in the semifinals and then Juab in the championship.
The Manti game wasn’t that close, but the other two could’ve gone either way as they were both one possession games.
For Juab, Manti and North Sanpete, they are once again the favorites in Region 14, and all three are hungry for another shot at Morgan, and whatever team waits in the playoffs again.
“The kids are very hungry,” said Juab coach Mike Bowring. “You get a taste of it being so dang close, and it’s the little things that make the difference. I think the kids are hungry and ready to get back and try and go after it again.”
His team was so close to capturing the school’s first state title in school history, but the offense disappeared in the championship as it lost to Morgan 8-0.
Juab graduated several key starters last year, but has some great experience back in returning Deseret News first team all-staters Dominic Davidson (OL) and Bodee Blackett (CB).
David Phillips is also back on the offensive line, an area that could again emerge as a strength for the Wasps this season as it looks to repeat as region champion.
Manti finished third in Region 14 last season, but in the coaches preseason rankings it checks in at No. 2 this year as coach Cole Meacham’s team returns most of its skill position players including quarterback Jax Parry.
The big question is in the trenches.
“Our key is going to be our offensive and defensive line, that’s where we really took a hit with graduation,” Meacham said. “We’ve got some good leadership and I feel we have a shot to push and get back to where we like to be.”
Manti’s offense ranked 10th in 3A last year averaging 22.5 ppg, and it will need strong line play to find the back of the end zone more often to keep up with 3A’s best.
North Sanpete probably had the best shot at beating Morgan last year, but turnovers killed the Hawks in the 10-7 semifinal loss.
With six offensive starters returning and five defensive starters, North Sanpete figures to be right there in the end again with great leadership emerging so far this summer.
“The last two years, our leadership has been more of a role model leadership, lead by example,” Bird said. “This year our leaders are more vocal. They call each other out if things aren’t done the right way, loud and energetic. This year it’s coming from the kids, and we’re super excited about that.”
Cole Mickel has established himself as one of those vocal leaders as the first team all-state linebacker is back for his senior season after racking up 124 tackles and 12 sacks last season.
While there was a clear distinction between the top three and the bottom three in Region 14 last year, the gap could close this year. Delta, Union and American Leadership all return at least half of their starters from last season. All three have a legitimate reason to be excited about competing for a higher RPI seed in 2020.
Deseret News projections for Region 14 football teams in 2020
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
- JUAB: Offensively, Juab returns five starters, with Trey Lund, Bodee Blackett and Shan Jackson expected to take on larger offensive roles this season. QB duties will fall either to Alex Jackson or Luke Ivers. Juab was one of the top defensive units in 3A last season and with six starters back it will once again be difficult to score on. Dominic Davidson and David Phillips will anchor the defensive line, while Blackett, Lund and Louk Stevens make up a very strong secondary. 2019 RECORD: 12-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Morgan in 3A championship.
- MANTI: With QB Jax Parry returning along with running backs Tyler Taukeiaho and Austin Cox, Manti’s offense could be very strong this season. Much of that is contingent upon offense line newcomers Anthony Henningson, Isaac Schoppe and Kayden Clark. Coach Cole Meacham has very high expectations for the trio, but they still need to prove it on Friday nights. The defense will be led by Cox and Taukeiaho at linebacker, with Tanner Justesen and Tyson Brenchley back in the secondary. 2019 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Morgan in 3A quarterfinals.
- NORTH SANPETE: With Landon Bowles entering his third year as starting quarterback, North Sanpete’s offense could take a big step this year if he does a better job protecting the ball. Coach Rhett Bird expects him to use his feet more this season as well. With Magnus Clawson (WR) and Trevin Morley (RB) back on offense he’ll have weapons to distribute the ball to. Anchoring what could be a very strong defense are linebackers Cole Mickel and Laramie Roberts. 2019 RECORD: 11-2. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Morgan in 3A semifinals.
- DELTA: With experience at quarterback and a strong junior class ready to make bigger contributions, Delta is optimistic about a bounce-back season in 2020. Leading the way offensively is quarterback Austin Topham, who could give Delta an increased passing presence this year. Anchoring the offensive line are returning starters Jake Nickle and Connor Osoro. Bridger Terril is also back on the line after missing all of last season with an injury. Delta’s biggest strength defensively is its duo of returning starting linebackers Tate Willoughby and Will Finlinson. 2019 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juan Diego in 3A first round.
- UNION: A year ago Union didn’t have a JV team, which meant a lot of players that could’ve benefited from playing at a lower level were thrust into varsity action. That could benefit Union this year with seven returning offensive starters and nine defensive starters. Boone Lathem is taking over at quarterback after starting at receiver last season. The offensive line features three returning starters: Owen Cook, Zach Foote and Raef Swain. Foote and Cook will anchor the defense at linebacker. 2019 RECORD: 2-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Grantsville in 3A first round.
- ALA: With increased participation this year, coach Nate Porter is excited about the potential of going two deep with his skill positions players, which could in turn help the program improve upon last year’s seven wins. Nathan Johnson takes over at quarterback this season, and should have good protection with returning offensive line starters Alec Shockley, Alex Vigo and Deuce Porter. Defensively, Duncan Henstra, Johnson and Vigo are back to lead a strong linebacking core. 2019 RECORD: 7-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Juab 35-7 in 3A quarterfinals