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Snow Canyon hoping to end long region title drought in stacked Region 9

Snow Canyon last earned a share of region title in 2003, but it edged Dixie and Pine View in coaches preseason voting

SALT LAKE CITY — If the razor thin voting from the Region 9 coaches is any indicator, a notable shift is about to take place in southern Utah this season.

Snow Canyon, a team that hasn’t won an outright region championship since 2000 or shared a region title since 2003, has been pegged by the narrowest of margins as the region favorite ahead of Dixie and Pine View.

Snow Canyon only won four region games a year ago, but with eight returning starters on offense and defense, there’s a ton of potential for Snow Canyon in 2020.

Warriors coach Mike Esplin said his players are ready to embrace the challenge ahead of them.

“Anytime you can return key positions, some of them three-year starters and others two-year starters, that helps with the leadership even in the atmosphere we’re in right now because they’ve already been leading before the rules changed,” said Esplin.

Since Snow Canyon’s last region title, every other team in Region 9 has won a region title except Canyon View and Crimson Cliffs — which just opened last year.

Pine View is the reigning Region 9 champ as it went undefeated last year, and in the three seasons prior it was Dixie that enjoyed undefeated seasons.

Beating both of those teams will be critical for Snow Canyon to realize its expectations. It beat Pine View as recently as 2017, but hasn’t beat Dixie since 2012.

Pine View’s quest at a repeat could hinge on its overall team speed.

“This is the fastest we’ve ever been since I’ve been coaching at Pine View hands down. It’s not even close,” said Pine View coach Ray Hosner.

A year ago Pine View had a penchant for simply outscoring teams, as it ranked first in 4A scoring offense but 11th in scoring defense. With a new quarterback and certainly more questions offensively, Pine View’s defense will need to come up with more consistent stops this season.

Dixie’s quest to get back on top of the Region 9 mountain will likely hinge on the defensive side of the ball. It returns eight starters on defense and just one on offense.

Coach Blaine Monkres said it’s critical his defense doesn’t get overconfident.

“They all played last year and obviously think they’re going to be pretty good, and on paper they are, but they’re going to have to overcome that and make sure they keep working hard so they don’t fall off,” said Monkres.

While Snow Canyon, Dixie and Pine View were lumped very close together in the preseason voting, there was a notable drop off to the next three — Desert Hills, Cedar City and Crimson Cliffs.

Desert Hills finished third in region last year and with nine defensive starters returning should be a factor again for the region title.

“So far this summer our defense has looked really good, so with a little more experience it will be fun and we’re excited to see what they can do,” said coach Mark Murdoch, who said his defense will be a 50-50 mix of seniors and juniors.

Cedar coach Josh Bennett believes his team is talented enough to crack the top three in Region 9 with tons of returning experience.

“This is my sixth year as a head coach, and this is the most experience we have returning. It’s not a guarantee we’re going to win or be successful, but it does help as far as implementing stuff,” said Bennett.

Crimson Cliffs coach Jaron Tate hopes similar experience pays off for his team in its second season playing football. Consistently moving the chains will be key.

“It will be our run game and being able to control the tempo and the speed of the game. Down here we have some really high-power offenses in Dixie, Pine View and Desert Hills, so for us we’re going to run the ball more,” said Tate.

Hurricane and Canyon View were projected to finish at the bottom of Region 9, but both teams are hoping experience proves otherwise.

Canyon View returns seven starters on both sides of the ball as Chris Sawyers heads into his third season as head coach, while Hurricane returns six offensive starters and five defensive starters in coach Skyler Miller’s third year as well.

Deseret News projections for Region 9 football teams in 2020

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

  1. SNOW CANYON: Landon Frei will be a three-year starter at QB, and he should get great protection from an offensive line that returns four starters, Isaac Lees, Jacorey McKeever, Jaden Erickson and Hayden Frei. Bretton Stone have a breakout season at running back. Defensively, Snow Canyon is loaded on the line as Frei, Lees, McKeever and Carson Hansen are all back from last season. Braxton Hickman is back at linebacker after leading the team in tackles a year ago. Wesley Tauanuu and Brenton Childs are returning linebacker starters as well. 2019 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Park City in 4A quarterfinals.
  2. DIXIE: The lone returning starter on offense is O-lineman George Lamb. Taking over for QB is Bronson Barben, and how the many unproven weapons around him develop will be critical to his success. The defense is led by Bode Ray (LB), Hunter Knighton (FS) and Honor Alo (DE) who were among the top six tacklers for Dixie last season. Other returning contributors are Truemann Alo (LB), Alex Maycock (LB), Keilen Washington (CB), Brian Algeria (DT) and KC Erickson (DT). 2019 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Sky View in 4A semifinals.
  3. PINE VIEW: The strength of the offense is on the line as Brennan Shaw, Peter Falaniko and Dayson Moore are all returning starters. Enoch Takau (RB) and Dominique McKenzie (WR) are great weapons for first-year QB Brayden Bennell to spread the ball around to. Linebacker should be Pine View’s strength defensively as Takau, Corbin Gifford and Dylan Becker are all returning starters. Ricky Muae is the lone starter back on the D-line but he’ll be a handful for defenses. 2019 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Park City in 4A semifinals.
  4. DESERT HILLS: With four of five starters back on the O-line — Peyton Williams, Maguire May, Chance Richins and Jake Warner — the new skill position players should be great protection as they ease into the season. The defense will be anchored by Cy Nunley (LB), Braxton Turnbow (S), Awsten Turnbow (S/LB) and Scott Stokes (LB), who were among the team’s leading tacklers last season. The Thunder ranked 18th in defense a year ago, but the coaching staff hopes experience and simpler schemes lead to an improvement. 2019 RECORD: 5-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Snow Canyon in 4A second round.
  5. CEDAR CITY: Jaron Garrett is back for another season as starting QB with Ben Ellis and Seth Brinkerhoff expected to take up larger roles in the backfield. The offensive line features four returning starters, Kian Tullis, Trevor Nielsen, Eliot Corser and Parker Allen. The defense will be anchored by Payton Murray (LB), Ellis (LB), Trey Payne (LB) and Charles Cook (S) who were among Cedar’s leading tacklers last year. Cedar gave up 50-plus points in three different region games last year, something it will need to improve this years. 2019 RECORD: 5-6. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Green Canyon in 4A second round.
  6. CRIMSON CLIFFS: Three returning starters on the O-line gives Crimson Cliffs a solid foundation to build on, Tyler Whittaker, Cameron Smithson and Dillon Coleman. The offense will be led by returning starting QB Chase Hansen. The Mustangs leading rusher and receiver must be replaced, but the coaching staff has high expectations for Creed Leonard (RB) and Gunner Orr (WR). The top returning tackler from last year is Marley Salano-Sagapolu on the D-line, while Wai Kaonohi and Zach Andrus will are key returning contributors at linebacker. 2019 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Cedar City in 4A first round.
  7. HURRICANE: Greg Scott and Isaiah Martinez return to anchor the offensive line, with Seth Peart expected to be a big contributor as well. Corbin Crofts is moving from O-line to fullback, while Conner Nielson returns after leading Hurricane in rushing. Big things are expected of Kaleb McLaws as he takes over at QB. McLaws is expected to anchor the linebacking core as well along with returning starter Crofts. Tucker Wright and Martinez are the top returning starters on the D-line. 2019 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Ridgeline in 4A first round.
  8. CANYON VIEW: After ranking in the bottom three in 4A scoring offense and defense last year, the Falcons hope experience leads to better results. Jake Garrett is back at QB, while Kyson Parker and Ethan Rigrup are the top returning starters on the line. The coaching staff expects to run the ball more effectively this year, with running back Gunner Hatch a player to watch. Linebackers Waylon Jones, Cooper McMullin and Tommy English are expected to anchor the defense, with Dayne Hudson and Gavin Foster key contributors on the line. 2019 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Cedar Valley in 4A first round.