4A state football championship preview: underdog Dixie looks to upend unbeaten Ridgeline

Dixie quarterback Bronson Barben throws a pass against Sky View in a 4A state semifinal game, Oct. 29, 2021 | Photo by Jacqui Knighton, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — After a season of ups and downs, injuries, a couple of painful losses and ecstatic wins, Dixie High School’s football team will play in the 4A state championship game Friday in what can only be described as a David and Goliath story.

Pine View at Dixie, 4A state football semifinals, St. George, Utah, Nov. 5, 2021 | Photo by Jacqui Knighton, St. George News

On the one side is mighty Ridgeline (12-0), undefeated, piling up an average of 44 points per game, led by an offense capable of scoring on every single possession.

On the other side is Dixie (9-3), winner of its last six consecutive games, just now hitting its stride after missing key components early in the season. And like they have been most of the season, Dixie is undersized against the Riverhawks along the offensive and defensive lines.

“Well, they’re really good,” Dixie coach Blaine Monkres told St. George News on Tuesday night after practice. He mentioned Ridgeline running back Noah White and quarterback Kaden Cox.

“They have one of the best running backs in the state that’s going to give us problems, and their QB has thrown like 50 touchdown passes and two interceptions, he’s really good,” Monkres said. “We’re going to need a defensive task force to step up and play tough this week and try to slow them down a little bit.”

If it turns into a high octane, score-for-score kind of affair, Dixie’s offense is capable of putting up points as well.

Senior quarterback Bronson Barben missed several games this season with an injury but has returned to form since coming back healthy.

Playmakers Shea Anderson and Jakheo Mitchell have quick-strike capability, and Barben has a variety of options to hand the ball off to in the running game: Seth Takau, Jeffrey Christian and Derek Kesterson are all capable of big plays.

Crimson Cliffs at Ridgeline, 4A state football semifinals, Millville, Utah, Nov. 5, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Rick Parker for Cache Valley Daily, St. George News

Throw in players like Mason Kesterson and Jaxon Barben, and the Flyers have an offense that can conceivably keep up with Ridgeline’s scoring machine.

“I think if we get the run game going it will open everything up for us,” Bronson Barben said Thursday night after Dixie’s last practice before hitting the road to Salt Lake City. “I think we’re going to try to push it, get the O-line in front of us to do the work, and then we can open up the pass more.”

Takau, who filled in for Barben as quarterback while he was injured and then moved to tailback when he returned, said a key for Dixie will be to score early.

“I feel like we need to come out with intensity right at the start like we did last week against Pine View,” Takau said. “If we have a hyped-up offense, score on the first drive, get our hype up and get a defensive stop, we can get the momentum going.”

Dixie and Ridgeline kickoff at 11 a.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah on Friday morning.

The numbers game

Noted football statistician George Felt compiled the following stats previewing the match-up.

The teams have met once before, when Dixie defeated Ridgeline 38-7 in a 2019 second-round playoff game at Dixie.

Six-year-old Ridgeline is trying to become one of the youngest schools in Utah to win its first championship game.

Five other schools won their initial title in their sixth season (Alta, Corner Canyon, East, Herriman and Skyline). But only four have won it as fast as Highland, Juan Diego and Snow Canyon won in their third year while Mountain Crest won the title in its fifth season.

Ridgeline is attempting to become the 116th team (and 52nd school) to celebrate an undefeated season and is the only undefeated team remaining in Utah.

Dixie is in the finals for the first time since 2018 (lost to Orem), and for the fifth time in 10 years. The Flyers last state crown came in 2014, and Dixie is 8-4 all-time in championship games.

Coach Monkres directed the Flyers to their 2012 and 2014 state titles, and he also coached Morgan to a championship in 1993. He is 3-2 coaching in state championship games all-time.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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