SALT LAKE CITY — Only the name remains the same.
At least, that is, according to Mountain Crest coach Mark Wootton when speaking of how his Mustangs beat Highland in Week 1 of the high school football season. He feels the two teams meeting today at 6:30 at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the 4A state championship don't have much in common from the two teams that met 13 weeks ago.
"I don't think you can really put much stock in that first game," Wootton said. "They have some of the same personnel, but they are playing much, much better now. They are playing with a lot of confidence and are really playing well offensively. Of course, so are we. We are a much better team now than when we first played them."
Mountain Crest beat Highland 28-14 in the season opener for both squads. It was the third time in a year the Mustangs defeated the Rams — they beat them 48-27 in Week 1 of the 2009 season and 48-7 in the state quarterfinals. In fact, Mountain Crest starting quarterback Alex Kuresa has beat Highland four times in his career and has never lost to them as a starter. The game is also a rematch of the 2005 4A title game, a game won by the Mustangs 32-24. But that truly has no bearing on which team will claim the state title. Both teams are on a roll right now after hitting some speed bumps earlier in the year.
"You look at how we started. We started a little rocky and had our ups and downs through the middle of the season," said Highland coach Brody Benson. "But the team kept working and believing and trusting in one another, trusting in the program, trusting in the coaching staff and good things have happened.
"That's what we've told them: 'If you will just take care of business and keep working, good things are going to happen for this team.' "
Both offenses have found a rhythm. Mountain Crest has scored 52, 56 and 42 points in its three playoff games, while Highland has posted 35, 48 and 46 points.
"We know they are scoring a lot of points, and we are going to have to try to slow them down," said Mustang running back and nose guard Nate Rigby. "We are confident that we will be able to score, but we would like to stop them as well. It is going to be tough, but we think we can get a few stops."
Highland quarterback Anthony Smithson has been one of the major reasons the team has been so explosive as of late, while Kuresa will finish his career today with nearly every imaginable career record for a signal caller.
Rigby and Troy Pickett are as explosive a combo at running back and wide receiver as any duo in the state. But Highland can counter with receiver Nate Fakahafua and fullback Sione Houma, who between the pair have 11 touchdowns in the last three weeks.
So with two teams familiar with each other, full of playmakers and playing for a title, desire and effort could decide the outcome.
"We're going to have to finish the ball game," said Benson. "We're going to have to play hard every snap. We're not going to be able to take any plays off. It doesn't matter what you throw at Mountain Crest. They're going to play hard every single snap and we know we're in for a fight for four quarters and we got to be ready to go."
Scoring offense: 30.9 ppg
Scoring defense: 20.6 ppg
Passing leader: Anthony Smithson (60-99, 60.6%, 1,467 yards, 15 TDs, 4 INTs)
Receiving leader: Nate Fakahafua (48 rec., 1,151 yards, 14 TDs)
Tackles leader: Desmond Collins (77 total tackles)
Sacks leader: Nate Fakahafua (15.5 sacks)
Int. leader: Colby Earl (6 INTs)
MOUNTAIN CREST STATS
Scoring offense: 40.5 ppg
Scoring defense: 19.6 ppg
Passing leader: Alex Kuresa (274-427, 64.2%, 3,690 yards, 36 TDs, 10 INTs)
Tackles leader: Schofield Smith (84 total tackles)
Sacks leader: Nate Rigby (6 sacks)
Int. leader: Faimafili Laulu-Pututau (4 INTs)
Aug. 20 … Mountain Crest 28, Highland 14
Aug. 27 … Hunter 25, Highland 7
Sept. 3 … Highland 14, Lone Peak 12
Sept. 10 … Highland 34, Bear River 13
Sept. 17 … Highland 48, Tooele 7
Sept. 24 … Highland 42, Stansbury 14
Oct. 1 … Olympus 21, Highland 17
Oct. 8 … Highland 31, Bountiful 17
Oct. 13 … Woods Cross 31, Highland 23
Oct. 21 … Highland 42, East 14
Oct. 29 … Highland 35, Box Elder 21
Nov. 6 … Highland 48, Pine View 44
Nov. 12 … Highland 46, Springville 21
MTN. CREST GAME-BY-GAME
Aug. 20 … Mountain Crest 28, Highland 14
Aug. 28 … Lone Peak 23, Mountain Crest 13
Sept. 3 … Mountain Crest 42, Woods Cross 35
Sept. 11 … Mountain Crest 51, Las Vegas 7
Sept. 17 … Mountain Crest 41, Bonneville 27
Sept. 24 … Mountain Crest 34, Box Elder 7
Sept. 30 … Logan 35, Mountain Crest 34
Oct. 8 … Mountain Crest 55, Ogden 14
Oct. 21 … Mountain Crest 38, Sky View 6
Oct. 29 … Mountain Crest 52, Payson 6
Nov. 5 … Mountain Crest 56, East 26
Nov. 12 … Mountain Crest 42, Bountiful 35