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High school football: Stacked Region 3 should again be 3-way race between Bingham, Herriman, East

Bingham running back Preston Larson runs up the middle during action in the East at Bingham 6A football quarterfinal game in South Jordan on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. 
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Bingham-East rivalry has quickly become one of the most intense in the state in recent years, and it figures to be even more contentious this season after East snapped a four-game skid against Bingham in the 6A quarterfinals last year.

This year’s showdown is scheduled for Week 7, and it’s one East coach Brandon Matich is looking forward to for multiple reasons.

First, both teams always feature some of the state’s best talent in the trenches, and it’s a chess match each drive as the respective coaches try and figure out a way to win that series.

Secondly, it’s who Matich gets to coach against.

The East-Bingham rivalry heated up after Dave Peck’s retirement from Bingham following the 2014 season, but now that he’s back this year’s showdown will be the first between the head coaches.

“I love that I get to compete against Dave because Dave and I are such good friends,” said Matich.

Bingham won the regular season meeting last year before East returned the favor in the playoffs.

East, Bingham and Herriman all ended up sharing the Region 3 title, each finishing with 4-1 records.

Herriman’s win over Bingham in Week 6 was one of the eye-opening games of the regular season as it was the first win over Bingham in school history, snapping a seven-game losing streak.

When those three teams square off again in 2020, every game will have a black-and-blue type of intensity to it.

Bingham will head into the season as the Region 3 favorite in the Deseret News coaches preseason poll.

Peck never envisioned he’d return to Bingham when he left in 2014, but he said serving as the defensive coordinator the past couple years for his nephew at North Sanpete lit a coaching fire within him. When long-time friend John Lambourne — the coach who replaced him — announced he was stepping down at Bingham, Peck was intrigued by the possibility and eventually threw his hat in the ring and was hired back.

He inherited a loaded team that includes nine offensive returning starters and seven defensive starters.

“Offensively we have a chance to be really, really good. Talented kids and a lot of kids coming back,” said Peck.

Bingham ranked seventh offensively and fifth defensively in 6A last year. When it was winning state titles as recently as 2017, it always ranked in the top three in both categories, something Peck will surely try and get the program back to.

For East, it made the deepest playoff run out of the Region 3 teams, advancing to the semifinals for the second time since joining 6A.

With seven starters back offensively and six defensively, the pieces are there for the Leopards to make another deep playoff run. It may all come down to protecting the football.

“I think one of the biggest keys for us is taking care of the football. I don’t think we did a good job of that last year in key moments,” said Matich.

In the semifinals against American Fork last season, it moved the ball well but several key fumbles were simply too much to overcome.

For Herriman, its defense was the catalyst to last year’s piece of the region title as it led 6A only allowing 14.5 ppg. Only three starters are back from that senior-laden squad, while the team also only returns two offensive starters.

Herriman has a mix of seniors and juniors who will try and fill in those many key positions.

“Small, but talented senior class. Excited to see some young players compete on a varsity level,” said Pearce.

Riverton was pegged to finish fourth in the top-heavy Region 3, but this team could end up surprising its opponents. It narrowly lost to both East and Herriman in region play last year and with most of last year’s offensive contributors back and five key defensive players returning, there’s experience to build on.

“We don’t have as many starters returning on defense, but we do have starters coming back at every position group, which is big,” said Riverton coach Jody Morgan.

Jordan finished fifth in region last year, but it has a new coach calling the shots in 2020, Rodrigues Smith. An assistant at a variety of schools, most recently at Kearns, Smith returns to the school he spent six years coaching under coach Eric Kjar.

“I’m just blessed to be back at Jordan High,” said Smith. “It’s a great opportunity for me and my family and for my coaching staff, for the kids I get to work with. Just an overall blessing.”

Copper Hills was pushed around in region play last season as it was shut out by East, Herriman and Bingham, but participation numbers are better than they’ve ever been for coach Corey Dodds as he enters his fourth season at Copper Hills.

Deseret News projections for Region 3 football teams in 2020

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)

  1. BINGHAM: Troy Mehn is back at QB this year and has a couple of outstanding weapons to get the ball to, Isaiah Glasker (WR) and Cael Wightman (RB). The strength offensively could be the line as all five starters saw significant playing time last year, Lavaka Taukeiaho, LJ Tufele, Don Fairholm, George Maile and Weylin Lapuaho. Defensively, Sam Sinoti and Vili Po’uha are back at linebacker, while Taniela Pepa and Tupou Maile will anchor a potentially very strong defensive line. 2019 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to East in 6A quarterfinals.
  2. EAST: Amini Amone rushed for over 1,900 yards as a freshman last year and along with Mapa Vaenuku, both should have big years carrying the ball. The offensive line is anchored by two returning starters Voi Tunuufi and Manatua Iosua. Defensively, East features one of the best defensive lines in recent memory as Voi Tunifi, Orion Maile-Kaufusi, Ricky Wolfgramm and Misitone Lavatai are all key returning contributors. 2019 RECORD: 10-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to American Fork in 6A semifinals.
  3. HERRIMAN: The defensive will be anchored by Jaxson Fullwood on the defensive line, with Brock Hollingsworth and Austin McMillen returning in the secondary. The lone returning starters offensively are key ones in the trenches as Dylan Rich and Hayden Lindquist are both back this season. 2019 RECORD: 9-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to American Fork in 6A quarterfinals.
  4. RIVERTON: Jaxson Howard is back at QB after starting the first half of the season last year, and Braden Woodruff and Hayden Turville are two of the weapons he hopes to spread the ball around to. Brayden Hunkin is also back at running back after leading the team a year ago. Kyller Pickle, Ryder Lewis and Dallin Carter are returning starters in the trenches. The defense will be anchored by Kade Neilson on the defensive line and then Kaleb Hamblin and Brayden Hunkin at linebacker. Kaden Rengers and Caden Meyers bring experience back to the secondary. 2019 RECORD: 6-5. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak in 6A first round.
  5. JORDAN: There isn’t too much returning varsity experience for new coach Smith, but he’s counting on a strong line led by Kauai Aiono, Sam Evans, Xen Logan and Jovi Griffiths to open things up for the skill position players. Defensively, the ‘Diggers return three starters from last season, Mason Lund (DL), Hayden Barr (LB) and Alex Parrish (DB). Elijah Martin, Jayden Filipe and Griffiths are newcomers who should make key contributions at linebacker. 2019 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Herriman in 6A second round.
  6. COPPER HILLS: With seven offensive returning contributors back and eight returning defensive contributors, the Grizzlies are hoping to be more competitive in 2020. Offensively, Tommy Peake is moving from receiver to quarterback, and he’ll have three experienced offensive lineman in front of him, Kaden Bybee, Noah Kaio and Chris Lousiale. Defensively, Copper Hills is led by three returning starters at linebacker, Kailer Laufiso, Walter Reed and Keller Coester. 2019 RECORD: 4-7. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Hunter in 6A first round.