High school soccer: The rivalry Memories abound in 25 years of Alta vs. Brighton
Tom Smart, Deseret News
Twice every spring, Brighton High and Alta High put on a soccer show for the rest of the state.
Since Day 1 of sanctioned boys prep soccer, Brighton and Alta, two of the state's most elite soccer programs, have been paired together in the same region, and what has ensued between the two since 1983 has been a whole bunch of fabulous entertainment.
Before mammoth crowds, Brighton and Alta have collided annually in contests that have usually decided region championships, have had huge implications on state playoffs and perhaps most importantly for those involved have given one side bragging rights over the other.
There are many other fantastic boys soccer rivalries in the state Davis-Viewmont, Alta-Jordan, Woods Cross-Bountiful, Ogden-Ben Lomond and Park City-Wasatch all immediately spring to mind but Brighton-Alta has everything: sheer size, a glorious history, legendary coaches, two extremely classy programs and a vast array of star players.
Brighton and Alta will meet for the second time this season at Cottonwood Heights today at 3:30 p.m. And accordingly, the Deseret News presents to our readers today some of the most memorable moments in the illustrious history of Brighton-Alta, as told by the coaches and players who have participated in it.
This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list of the top Brighton-Alta moments but is instead intended to give our readers a taste of what the king of Utah prep soccer rivalries is all about.
My late goal handed eventual champs their lone defeat
Rivalry participant: John Carper, Alta, forward, 1988-90
Year of memory: 1989
In his own words: "Let me start out by saying that Brighton's 1989 team is one of the best high school teams I've ever seen.
"That year, they obviously won the state title, however, they did suffer one loss to the Alta Hawks.
"Brighton had a very strong senior class and we were mostly made up of juniors. Both teams knew each other well, and they had beaten us earlier in the season at Alta.
"I remember it being tied late in the second half when all of a sudden Shane Jones played a through ball to me and I found myself one-on-one with the goalie. I am sure I was so nervous, but luckily I scored and we won.
"The starting sweeper for Brighton at that time was Stuart Bogan. Stuart and I are still great friends, but to this day he still claims I was offside. I just tell him I outran him!"
One of state's all-time best players got tough welcome
Rivalry participant: Justin Labrum, Brighton, midfielder/forward, 1990-93
Year of memory: 1990
In his own words: "One of the biggest memories that sticks out to me is when I was a freshman and played my first game against Alta. We went to play at Alta, and I thought that I was pretty tough playing with all the older guys.
"We got the ball down on their side of the field toward the corner on somewhat of a fast break. My teammate crossed the ball and I seemed to be all by myself. The ball was coming in around the penalty spot, and I thought for sure it would be my first goal against them!
"When I jumped in the air, however, no ball, and the next thing I remember is laying flat on my back, trying to desperately gasp for air and realizing John Ragsdale, Alta's goalie and a good friend and teammate for years to come, had just welcomed me to the big-boys league of high school soccer. I was quite timid to challenge him again!"
I had to score twice to beat Brighton at last second
Rivalry participant: Matt Affleck, Alta, forward, 1995-98
Year of memory: 1997
In his own words: "When we met Brighton at Alta in 1997, the game was tied late. We got a corner kick with seconds left. The ball floated across and I headed it into the goal. I was piled on by my teammates and we had quite the celebration without realizing the ref had called a foul on the play and had given the ball to Brighton no goal!
"We were enraged, but in an attempt to get play going quickly (and to keep the ref from changing his mind about the horrible call) the Bengals quickly took the kick, hit one of their own defenders in the back of the head and the ball flew out for another corner.
"Again the ball came across and I again headed it past the keeper into the net! This time the goal counted, and before the ball was even kicked off the ref blew his whistle to end the game."
Humbling defeat paved way for greater achievements
Rivalry participant: Brandon Russell, Alta, goalkeeper, 1995-97
Year of memory: 1997
In his own words: "A goalkeeper tends to remember games that were lost versus others that were won.
"In 1997, we were ranked No. 1 in the polls and when we visited Brighton late in the year, coach (Lee) Mitchell was nervous that as a team we were overconfident and were not mentally prepared to play our rival. I remember as a player thinking that we would get the win and then make it home in time for a school dance the same evening. We were undefeated and in high school, so we felt invincible.
"Well, the game did not go as planned and we were defeated by a large margin I remember the score but don't believe it needs to be shared!
"That game was a humbling experience and really set the tone for the rest of our season. The loss to Brighton came at a perfect time because it caused us to refocus, and we ended up going 17-1 and winning the state championship."
Coach Cushing goes out on top
Rivalry participant: Tom Cushing, Brighton, head coach, 1980s-2000
Year of memory: 2000
In his own words: "Two memories stand out to me about the rivalry. First, I'll always remember competing against coach Mitchell in all of those games. We grew up together and have been close friends since childhood, and the respect we had for each other fueled the competition.
"Second, Brighton and Alta, for whatever reason, had never met in a state game until 2000, when we played for the state championship. It was my last year as Brighton's coach.
"Well, Brighton and Alta met for the state championship, and we won it."
Bengals kept composure after serious injury to captain
Rivalry participant: Russ Boyer, Brighton, defender, 1992-94; head coach, 2001-present
Year of memory: 2001
In his own words: "The great thing about the Brighton-Alta rivalry is that all the games are played with state-tournament intensity, and the 2001 game at Alta stands out to me because the high level of intensity was matched by emotional circumstances that surrounded the game.
"With five minutes remaining in regulation, Zach Smith, a senior and one of our captains, was seriously injured as he got behind the defense and was taking the ball to the net. He was unconscious and had seizures and was eventually taken off the field in an ambulance. (His jaw was broken and he was out for the season.)
"With the region championship on the line, the game went to overtime, and after 20 minutes of OT proved indecisive, it went to a shootout. Brighton won the shootout but not until the 10th shooter!
Rivalry played out on the state's biggest stage again
Rivalry participant: Lee Mitchell, Alta, head coach, 1983-present
Year of memory: 2006
In his own words: "We met for the state championship in 2000 and in 2006, and both stand out to me. They got us in 2000 but we got them in 2006!"The stands at Juan Diego were completely full, and it was back-and-forth all the way. Both teams were so good that year, and I just remember that all of the sudden it was over. There was so much build-up to that game, and all the sudden it was over and we had won when Matt Frogley scored the golden goal in overtime."
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