The 119th season of prep football kicks off with 101 teams as the Diamond Ranch Diamondbacks join Class 1A. D.R., located in Hurricane, previously played a mix of 11- and 8-man football against out-of-state and J.V. teams, Abundant Life Academy (Kanab) and Sorenson's Ranch (Koosharem), whose football programs aren't within the auspices of the Utah High School Activities Assn.
Granger and Olympus are slated to have their schools rebuilt and that affects the football facilities, as well. Granger's new gridiron is almost ready, but Olympus will have to play at least some games at old Granite High until its field is ready later this fall. Granger was supposed to host Payson in Week 1, but the game was moved to Payson earlier this week.
Realignment – and Rivalries:
The UHSAA's innovative, every-two-year realignment forced some long-time rivals back together. This season, Spanish Fork meets Carbon for the first time since 1988; SF leads the 50-game series, 29-19-2…. Millard and Delta have played 87 times, and Payson greets Lehi for the 49th time, but both pairs haven't battled since 2006.
Meanwhile, other rivalries have gone on break for the time being. Among those, the most surprising is Springville-Payson – tied for the second most-played series with 92 games. They're off the schedule for the first time since 1953 and just the second time since the 1925 season.
Clearfield, moving to 4A, will avoid long-time rivals Layton (series last interrupted in 1968), Davis (1978), and Viewmont (1996).
Also on hiatus: Juab-Manti (22 wins each), uninterrupted since 1969; Brighton-Hillcrest, which have played 41 times since 1969; and Emery-Carbon, which battled for the Coal Bucket from 1989-2010.
Olympus won't play East or Highland for the first time since 1988 and 1996, respectively. Logan and Ogden won't renew their 67-game series for the first time since 2005.
San Juan hasn't missed playing cross-county rival Monticello since 1992, also the last time Emery and North Sanpete failed to meet.
Of course, those schools could have chosen to play in non-region games, so realignment can't be totally to blame.
Realignment – and Schedules:
One primary goal of realignment was to even out teams so that region games in a given classification begin about the same time. For example, the past couple of years, Region 1 had nine teams and began region play the second week while other 5A leagues didn't commence until Week 5.
Now, most regions start competition during Week 4 or 5, although Regions 2, 4, 10 and 12 won't begin until Week 6. However, there are a couple of notable exceptions. Class 2A plays region contests during Week 3 (Sept. 2), but those schools reserve Week 10 for their first-round playoffs.
In Region 3, Brighton visits Cottonwood in Week 3 in their region opener, while others in the league start at least two weeks later. Both have Week-6 byes before their next region game in Week 7. According to Cottonwood coach Josh Lyman, both schools had games "fall through the cracks" and decided to play early and take a bye in Week 6.
Taking advantage of Endowment Week, nine pairs of teams that chose to continue rivalries tangle in series that have been played at least 40 times:
Logan and Bear River clash for the 80th time since 1925; the Grizzlies have a 48-28-3 edge over the Bears, but they've split the last eight.
Murray battles Cyprus in their 73rd meeting; they've split the last 12 but Murray holds a 38-30-4 advantage in the series.
Heading into their 72nd matchup, Box Elder is 50-18-3 vs. Weber, but the Warriors have won four straight from the Bees including a 19-18 thriller in 2010.
San Juan attacks Grand for the 65th time; the Broncos own a 36-28 series lead.
Millard takes a 46-6-1 series lead when the Eagles invade North Sanpete in Steve Coburn's return to high school coaching for the Hawks. NS broke Millard's seven-game win streak in the series last year, winning 19-6.
Wasatch and Grantsville meet for the 52nd time – they battled in the same region from the late 1950s through the '80s – and in their Endowment Game since 2002. The Wasps control 34-16-1.
For the 50th time, Judge and Tooele face off. The Bulldogs have a 28-21 edge.
Kanab has a 38-5 margin over North Sevier in an uninterrupted series that began in 1975. NS last defeated the Cowboys to capture the 2008 Class 1A championship.
Highland confronts West for the 40th time; the Rams dominate the series 27-12.
Realignment seems to allow schools to schedule an unusually high number of first-time meetings and this year follows suit.
Endowment Week features 11 such matchups: Cottonwood at Westlake, Diamond Ranch at Parowan, Layton Christian at American Leadership, Orem at Herriman, Maple Mountain at Morgan and Mountain Crest at Provo. Also Payson at Granger, Pleasant Grove at Kearns, Spanish Fork at Park City, Stansbury at Uintah and Syracuse at Desert Hills.
Other Game Notes:
Alta hosts Timpview in a blockbuster season-opener; the T-Birds have taken four of five from the Hawks, whose win came in 2009…. Brighton and Davis have battled annually since '98; the Bengals are 8-6 over the Darts since then and narrowly lead the series, 10-9.
Hunter and Layton meet for the fourth time, but first in the regular season. Last year, Hunter ousted Layton in a first-round playoff game to take a 2-1 series edge. New Wolverine coach Les Hamilton already has a win over Layton and Jim Batchelor, claimed when Alta vanquished the Lancers in the 2007 Class 5A title game.
Despite being divided by the Salt Lake Valley, Bountiful and Lone Peak have met at least annually since 2002. The Braves hold a 6-5 series lead…. Meanwhile, Bountiful area schools Viewmont and Woods Cross meet for the first time since 2004. The series is knotted at 12 each, although the Vikings have taken five straight.
American Fork-Cedar seems like an unusual pairing but they meet for the 11th time with AF leading the series 8-2. Cedar won last year, 23-0…. Canyon View and Juab last met in 2000.
Most Endowment Week contests pit teams that are an hour or less away. A few are long-distance games: Hurricane at Skyline, Olympus at Snow Canyon and East at Pine View. But Syracuse travels about 335 miles to Desert Hills, while Duchesne also makes a 335-mile journey to face Enterprise, but with much less freeway to speed up the trip.
Of the 16 coaches starting their first year at their current school, 12 – including all nine who are in their first-ever season – kick off in the comforts of home. Only Diamond Ranch's Ricky Dias, Olympus' Aaron Whitehead, Orem's Tyler Anderson and Roy's Fred Fernandes take their teams on the road, but they've all had previous head-coaching experience.
Emery, Hillcrest and Skyline celebrate their 50th seasons – for the Eagles, the first season they're not in the largest-school classification. Monument Valley opens its 25th season against arch-rival Whitehorse.
Union plays its 550th game when it visits Ben Lomond.
Salem Hills' Monte Morgan begins his 20th season (Wasatch, 1992-96, Lone Peak, 1997-2007 and SH since 2008). He becomes the 47th coach in Utah history with at least 20 years as a head coach and joins seven other active 20-plus-year coaches: Roger DuPaix (35th season, 26th at Skyline), Larry Wall (27th at Bountiful), Todd Peacock (25th, 21st at Cedar), John Colosimo (24th, 12th at Juan Diego), Jimmy Jones (24th at Emery), Blaine Monkres (22nd, fourth at Dixie) and Mark Wootton (21st, eighth at Mountain Crest).
Les Hamilton will try for his 75th career win in his first game as head coach at Hunter….
Syracuse's Russ Jones shoots for his 50th career victory in stints at Viewmont, Woods Cross and Syracuse, where he's 24-20.
At Bingham, Dave Peck coaches his 200th game when the Miners host West Jordan. He's 136-63 combined at North Sanpete, Cyprus and Bingham.
Bingham owns a 24-game win streak (tied for the third longest in Utah history and 12 shy of Timpview's record 36 set from 2006-2009), and San Juan follows with 20. Juan Diego has won 12 straight, Duchesne, 10 and Highland five.
By the way, San Juan last lost to a Utah team in the 2008 Class 2A championship and is 33-2 from 2008-2010. In addition, the Broncos have scored in 137 consecutive games since 1999, the longest active streak. Highland hasn't been whitewashed in 109 games and Alta in 101 contests, both since 2002.
Lehi, bumped to 5A, will try and snap a 26-game losing streak, the 12th longest in state history, when the Pioneers host Timpanogos. Ben Lomond has lost 17 straight, Canyon View, 14, Copper Hills, 13 and North Sevier 12.
Skyline and Timpview embark on what they hope to be their 22nd and 21st consecutive winning seasons, respectively. Those two have had the top of their coaching staffs much longer than their current players have been alive. Meanwhile, 5A power Bingham has had just seven straight winning campaigns. That's right – Bingham was 4-7 in '03, Dave Peck's fourth year.
Realignment – and Playoffs:
Another primary goal of evenly dividing regions in each classification was to make playoff bracketing easier.
That worked perfectly in 5A (six teams per region; four per region go to state) and 2A (for football – eight teams in two regions, six playoff teams each) and somewhat in 3A (two seven-team and two six-team regions, but four playoff teams from each).
But Class 4A, with three regions of six teams and a Utah County region of eight teams, will have an inter-region "play-in" game: this year, Region 7's No. 4 team hosts Region 8's No. 5. The winner of that game faces Region 5 No. 1 later the same week. Last season, Hunter and Layton had to play in such a game in 5A.
Interestingly, Region 7 chose to finish region games by Week 9 to allow teams to have a Week-10 (UEA Weekend, Oct. 19) bye, which Olympus, Skyline and Westlake elected to do.
Also, every 2A team will no longer automatically qualify for the state tournament; that honor passes to 1A where all nine football squads will get playoff berths. The last place team in the North and South regions will meet in a "play-in" to make an eight-team bracket.
College football has introduced several changes this year and last, including clock rules designed to speed up the game (offset by more TV timeouts) and a significant taunting rule change, which can nullify a touchdown if an official determines the taunting occurred before the TD was scored.
However, in prep football, no such modifications this year. Still, 11 rules have been altered, primarily addressing safety issues. These are highlighted by a redefinition of a chop block as any combination block where one block is high (above the knee) and one block is low (at or below the knee) – with or without delay between the blocks. A low-low combination block is no longer a chop block.
In addition, concussions, helmet use and contact above the shoulders will be Points of Emphasis for referees this season, and all horse-collar penalties are treated as live-ball fouls. One other interesting change restricts eye-shade to a single solid stroke under each eye so that no words, numbers, logos or symbols of any type can be included.
(Official language and explanations about 2011 rule changes can be found at www.nfhs.org/content.aspx?id=4648)
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Switching from football for a moment, wrestling will see significant changes in weight classifications for the first time since 1988. The 103-pound class moves to 106 pounds and 10 of the 14 classes have new weights (bold number are unchanged: 106, 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220 and 285). The goal is to have approximately 7 percent of the wrestlers in each class. In addition, the mat's boundary line is now inbounds so the ring's diameter is increased by four inches.