COMMENTARY — Walking around the community this time of year, I hear this a lot: “Hey Andy, who ya’ got?” or “Hey man, whattaya think? Should be good, huh?”
Not much else needs to be said. Some people try to pick my brain for some inside scoop. Others just want to make conversation. But we all know the topic without having to come out and say it — state championship football.
Thursday, 8-2 Pine View battles 11-0 Juan Diego in the first 3AA semifinal. Friday, 9-2 region champion Dixie battle 9-2 Desert Hills. Excitement is in the air. Fans are making plans for the trip. Players are doing everything they can to stay focused. Confidence, while tentative for some, is flowing.
When someone asks me who I’m going to pick, usually I answer with some positives for both teams, then let the questioner answer their own question (they usually don’t really want my opinion anyway). But for the past two seasons, my assistant and I (last year, Jeff Ames, this year Darren Cole) have been making picks at the end of our Game Preview Capsules. It has been tough — not picking the winners (I’m 47-8 this year) — because fans sometimes get offended when I don’t pick their team. Nevertheless, I tried to go with my gut and truly pick the team I thought would win the game.
Now, we’re down to the final four, the state semis, the penultimate games. And all that picking the southern Utah teams over the northern Utah teams has paid off as three of the four teams left are from St. George.
Last week, I covered the 3A semifinals for the Deseret News. As I watched Saturday’s Morgan-Manti game, I got to thinking about how some people don’t like the current alignment, with 3A basically split up into two classifications. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Manti and Judge Memorial will play for the 3A title this weekend at Weber State. It will be a nice title game for two teams that, though they would be competitive in 3AA, would have virtually no chance to beat any of the final four 3AA teams.
So the Templars and Bulldogs will have a chance at a title, while Dixie, Pine View, Juan Diego and Desert Hills will battle for supremacy of the 3AA. I’m about 99 and 44/1ooth’s percent sure that those four teams would all be in the semifinals with or without Judge and Manti in the classification. In other words, those four teams would be there regardless of how many Morgans or Deltas or Juabs were included in the classification.
With that in mind, here’s a glance at the different parts of the teams in the 3AA that make them so good. I will rank them one through four, with most of the ratings being extremely close and certainly up for debate.
Overall offense — This is a tough one, because if we go solely on points scored, well, Juan Diego wins at 42.1 ppg. But a lot of those points were against teams that are just, plain bad (JD beat Ben Lomond 69-0 and Park City 52-7). Base this ranking purely on yardage and Pine View’s 4,900 yard-total runs away with it. I went with which offenses seem to be playing their best right now.
1. Pine View — The big number against Hurricane and the couple of weeks off for fine tuning have me believing, plus no team passes as well as the Panthers.
2. Dixie — Cedar was in the game last week, then Boom! The Flyers scored 31 second-half points. The receiving corps is second to none, any classification.
3. Juan Diego — The Soaring Eagle are very physical on the line and play a veer-option that is very tough to slow down. Plus, they’ve added a throw-on-the-run wrinkle this year that puts even more pressure on opposing DBs.
4. Desert Hills — The Thunder may not have the numbers the other three teams do, but they have a 1,000-yard rusher and two or three impressive playmakers on offense.
Overall defense — Again, it’s hard to gauge Juan Diego, which played in a much weaker region. But even so, Desert Hills has been the most consistent.
1. Desert Hills — Allowing just 9.9 ppg, the Thunder only allowed one opponent all year more than 20 points, plus the DH defense scores touchdowns, too, forcing 32 turnovers this season including several pick-sixes.
2. Dixie — The Flyers were gouged by Riverton when several players were hurt on the D. Not counting that game, Dixie has allowed just 14.7 per game.
3. Juan Diego — JD gave up 14.8 ppg this year, but shouldn’t the Soaring Eagle be shutting out teams like Tooele and Park City? Snow Canyon had about 350 yards on them last week.
4. Pine View — They’ve been put in some tough situations, allowing 20.9 ppg. But remember, the Panthers offense scores quick. The D is out there longer than most defenses.
Overall special teams — This is always hard to measure, with so many elements in place (kicking, punting, returns, etc.). But Juan Diego built its mini-dynasty, in part, by having great special teams.
1. Juan Diego — The Soaring Eagle have a solid kicker, spectacular return team and excellent kick coverage. Never underestimate the power of an extra point.
2. Dixie — Drew Batchelor does an amazing job returning kicks and Miles Barker is solid at PK.
3. Desert Hills — Braden Reber’s speed make him so dangerous at returning kicks. Jordan Hokanson is shifty, and that’s a good thing.
4. Pine View — Good kicking and punting game, though PV has not broken too many long returns this season.
Intangibles — Factors like confidence, momentum, motivation and consistency all play a part in this ranking.
1. Dixie — The Flyers are the defending champs. That’s hard to beat. Plus they went undefeated in region. They play DH, a team, they beat by 20 at Desert Hills. It seems like everyone does one thing slightly better than Dixie, but no one does all things better than Dixie.
2. Juan Diego — Motivation is there after losing at home to Dixie last year. Confidence is also sky high — after all, JD is undefeated. But there is an air of uncertainty being from the northern region. Plus, the Soaring Eagle pass defense seems susceptible to giving up yardage,
3. Pine View — Confidence is way up for PV after last week’s big win and coming off the extended bye. The Panthers have also been very consistent, especially on offense. But playing in the semifinals at the U is something PV hasn’t done in a few years.
4. Desert Hills — The Thunder went through a crisis of sorts after losses to Dixie and Pine View, but seem to be getting their swagger back. There is that old adage about defense winning championships … plus DH will be big-time motivated to play Dixie again this week.
So, who ya got?
The Pine View-Juan Diego game is 11 a.m. Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Dixie-Desert Hills is 11 a.m. Friday, also at RES. A bit of noise has been made about wanting to move the Dixie-DH game to southern Utah. There are a lot of good reasons to move it, but one excellent reason to leave it in alt Lake City: Facilities don’t exist in southern Utah to host the number of people who would want to go to that game. Hansen Stadium (Dixie State) and Eccles Coliseum (SUU) are just too small. I would much rather the games be down here, but until those stadiums get bigger, we will have to hit the road. There are also other considerations (TV contracts, Rice-Eccles contract, etc.). As long as it doesn’t snow on us, I’m OK with the game being up north.
Lastly, congratulations to the state champions from Region 9: Desert Hills boys cross country team, Dixie girls soccer, Hurricane volleyball, and, individually, PV Lacey Hancock (1st singles tennis), DH’s Taylor Cooney and Madz Eames (1st doubles tennis) and Cedar’s Aimee Bryson (girls cross country). Hopefully we’ll have a football champ to congratulate in about a week.
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