ST. GEORGE — This week’s Region 9 football match-up between Cedar High and Snow Canyon High is anticipated to go down to the wire.
Snow Canyon has a reputation for being one of the toughest defensive teams in the region. Cedar plays a physical game, with an at times explosive offense, scoring 55 points against Desert Hills, 38 against Dixie and 43 against Canyon View.
“The thing about Cedar is, they always play four quarters,” Snow Canyon head coach Mike Esplin said. “They’ve got tough kids, and so we’ve just been trying to make sure they understand that Cedar’s kids and coaches are going to go to the very end.”
Esplin has been pushing his players a little harder this week, running them a little bit more, in preparation for the physicality that the Cedar Reds bring.
The Reds’ inconsistency has come on defense, which gave up 20 points last week to Hurricane and 56 the week prior in a double overtime loss to Desert Hills. Head coach Josh Bennett sees the game dependent on offensive turnovers. The Reds are getting ready for this game just as they have every other week — preparing as if this is the best team they’ll face.
“Based on how our games always go, I anticipate a close game,” Bennett said. “Defensively, we’ve challenged our defense to start playing better. I feel like we’ve got some good coaches, we’ve got a good scheme, it’s just a matter of if we’re going to come out and execute that scheme.”
The Warriors went up early against Crimson Cliffs last week but fell asleep a bit.
“Having won that game, that’s good for us because that can help Cedar be a trap even more,” Esplin said. “We got up big, 21-0, and then they kept playing and coming back, so we were forced to continue to play, and that was a good thing.”
Snow Canyon’s identity is their defensive grind, and Esplin is happy about it. He played defense and enjoyed it most. He wants his team to be workmanlike, bringing physicality and toughness to the game. Esplin says the Warriors’ defense and special teams will need to be alert this week.
Esplin’s team has also been working on the mental aspect of the game.
“We’ve been having a sports psychologist come through and talk to us about controlling our thoughts, belief and also knowing that you can get things done,” Esplin said. “It’s super frustrating, this year, not to win one or both of those games (Desert Hills and Dixie) because we played good enough to get the win. I think it’s just that mental edge that we have to step across.”
For the Reds, coach Bennett said they have a couple guys who they aim to get the ball in space, while letting them make the plays. Senior Kolbe Meek is one of those players. He’s averaging almost 300 all-purpose yards per game and is having an impact in the running game, passing game and on kick returns. Bennett is aiming to make Friday a more balanced game, as some of Cedar’s best games have been a balanced attack of both passing and running, making it harder on opposing defenses.
Jaron Garrett has also been a big part of the Cedar offense, throwing 323.7 yards per game, according to Maxpreps. He did throw two interceptions last week, but Bennett has been working with him on his mechanics, footwork and hand placement. He’s seen some good improvements from his senior quarterback over the last week.
Junior Bretton Stone has been a big piece for the Warriors, as he is averaging 106.3 all-purpose yards per game. Esplin said he is as healthy as he’s ever been.
“He had really good energy in practices,” Esplin said. “He could be a feature back if you’re a power running team. We want to have some of those aspects in our game.”
Snow Canyon will look to slow down the game with Stone’s running ability, give their defense some rest and control the pace of the game and the clock.
Quarterback Landon Frei is also going to be a big part of the Warriors’ offense Friday. Esplin said he has seen Frei make a lot of good decisions in practice, while balancing his running and passing plays.
While Esplin’s team has dealt with some injuries early in the year, and some tough losses, he thinks there’s still time for his team.
“With the way it’s set up playoff-wise, there’s still time this year to get on a run,” Esplin said. “I’ve seen it before where we have our injuries early, and other teams kind of have their injuries and bumps late. On all three sides we’ve had some inconsistency, but if we can get all three areas and our minds prepared to go win, and expect to go win, I really believe we can go deep in the playoffs, and we’d love to see a Dixie, or a Desert Hills or a Pine View again.”
Cedar is of the same mindset — play their best football late in the year and make a run into the playoffs.
“Our goal obviously is to peak, we want to peak at the right time,” Bennett said. “I think there’s things that we can do within our practice that can hopefully help us reach that point. We’ve shortened practice down a little bit this week because we’ve been going for a while, but the intensity has stayed up. We’re hoping with that stretch of practice through the week that we can start peaking at the right time.”
With the new RPI ranking system, everybody gets a chance in the postseason, and any team can make a run deep into the state tournament. Look out for Cedar and Snow Canyon, as both teams are trending upwards with only two games remaining.
Cedar and Snow Canyon play Friday on the Warriors’ senior night. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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