Utah’s best in prep football championships ‘on the turf’ today

Rice-Eccles Stadium is the site of the 4A championship once again | File photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Note: The Championship Friday lineup: 4A – Orem vs. Mt. Crest, 11 a.m.; 6A – Bingham vs. East, 2:30 p.m.; 5A – Lehi vs. Skyridge, 6 p.m. 

SALT LAKE CITY – Years ago (well, a little over a decade ago), playing “on the turf” meant a lot to high school football players.

Today, as the 4A, 5A and 6A finalists meet “on the turf” at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah, playing on artificial surfaces is no big deal. In fact, in the top three classifications in the state of Utah, more teams have fake grass than teams that have real grass.

Such is the environment in modern prep football.

So, while playing “on the turf” may be no big deal anymore, it IS a big deal to be playing in the state championship game at the U of U. Remember, Rice-Eccles is the stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics were held. This is the stadium where Pac-12 Conference football is played. And this is the stadium where the state championships have been held since the turn of the century.

Orem’s Puka Nacua (12), Desert Hills vs. Orem, Football, Orem, UT, Nov. 3, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Of course, it hurts that no southern Utah team is involved in Championship Friday. With Dixie starting the season so strong (beating 6A semifinalist Lone Peak) and then sweeping through Region 9, it felt like the Flyers were nearly unbeatable – until the injury bug paid a visit in the quarterfinals.

And Pine View, playing football the final few weeks of the season better than the Panthers had all year, well, it looked like PV was headed for another championship game. Cold weather and a sour first half against Sky View ended that dream.

Even Desert Hills, though not playing its best football, went into Orem with a solid game plan and an unstoppable running game. I was there for that one and I’ll be honest, Orem wasn’t any better than Desert Hills, except in one area. The Tigers executed when they got in scoring position. The Thunder left three or four touchdowns off the board with mistakes in the red zone.

Even Cedar, which turned the ball over five times against Stansbury, had a golden opportunity to make it at least to the semifinals.

But, alas, Championship Friday is Region 9-free. So, why watch?

Well, first of all, it is championship football in the state of Utah. The football fan in all of us has at least a smidgen of an urge to see the final prep football action of 2017.

Plus, there is a lot to be learned.

Lehi is playing for the 5A title | File photo by Shelly Griffin, ASPpix.com, St. George News

For instance, who is the best football player in Utah? Is it 5A Lehi quarterback Cammon Cooper, who has now passed for more yards in one season (4,464) than any quarterback in Utah history? Is it East running back Sione Molisi, who has 1,700 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging an eye-popping 10 yards per carry? The Orem duo of QB Cooper Legas and wide receiver Puka Nacua certainly make a case for being the best as well. Legas has passed for 3,802 yards and 44 TDs (10 fewer than Cooper), and has also rushed for 987 yards and six more TDs. Meanwhile, where would Legas be without Nacua, who has pulled in 83 catches for 1,616 yards and 23 (!) touchdowns.

Along with the player intrigue, there’s plenty of soap opera-type storylines with the teams.

In 6A, East and its supporters specifically lobbied to be included in 6A for the express purpose of challenging Bingham’s superiority.

In 5A, Skyridge is trying to be the first second-year school in Utah history to win a state championship. (For the record, Snow Canyon made it to the state 3A title game in its second year under head coach Bill Jacobsen, but lost that season to Delta. The Warriors won the title in their third season.)

Dixie’s Matt Kitchen (10), Dixie vs. Mountain Crest, Football, St. George, Utah, Nov. 03, 2017, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

And in 4A, it was assumed by those who follow 4A football that Region 10 was one of the weaker regions in the state. Teams like Payson, Salem Hills and Spanish Fork hadn’t beaten anyone of consequence, and Orem cruised through them all to win the region. The Tigers were Region 10 champs, but who had they played?

Mt. Crest, meanwhile, was supposed to have a diluted team with the school expansion in Cache Valley (Green Canyon).

The recent UHSAA classification shuffle means that Region 9 will be 4A for at least another three years after this season. My guess is that Region 9 will be 4A forever more, even with the addition of Crimson High in 2019.

So, at the very least, Region 9 fans should watch Championship Friday to prepare for what life will continue to be like in 4A.

Sure, it’s disappointing to not have a local team in the championship. But we need to all study what it will take so this doesn’t happen again.

For the record, I think Bingham beats East (not close) for the 6A championship, Skyridge tops Lehi (very close) for the 5A title and Orem beats Mt. Crest (kinda close) for the 4A crown.

4A football playoff bracket

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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