4A high school football preview: Highland at Maple Mountain
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Highland (6-3) at Maple Mountain (7-3)
4A state tournament first round
Friday, 5 p.m.
Parry's Power Guide: Highland by 29
All-time series: First meeting
Coach vs. coach: First meeting between Highland's Brody Benson and Maple Mountain's Brad Burtenshaw
Vegas doesn't offer betting lines on high school sports. If they did, and you had the foresight to predict that Maple Mountain would host a 4A first round game against defending champion Highland, you'd be a zillionaire.
Maple Mountain was pegged to finish dead last in the eight-team Region 8 this year, but the Golden Eagles posted a 5-2 record in region— with narrow losses to Timpview and Timpanogos — to finish second.
"We're just happy to be in the postseason and we're really happy we were able to earn a home game. At this point everyone's feeling good," said Maple Mountain coach Brad Burtenshaw.
Following an 0-9 record in the school's first year in 2009, Burtenshaw admits that hosting a playoff game and finishing with a 7-3 record seemed like it would never come.
"The kids have worked hard and really try to do the things coaches have asked. I'm just really happy for the kids to have a successful season. It's just a tribute to the kids, the coaches and the people in the program and how they've fought through it and against adversity," he said.
The reward for such a great season hardly seems like a reward though as Maple Mountain must host Highland.
The Rams finished with a 6-3 record this year, but some significant injuries and a 3-2 record in Region 6 dropped them to the No. 3 seed.
Fullback Sione Houma returned several weeks ago and is back to full strength, and this week quarterback Anthony Smithson returns to the field after missing six weeks. Smithson adds a passing element to Highland's offensive game that hasn't been there since the Lone Peak loss.
"We battled some adversity this year just with our injuries early on. I think we did a decent job. I thought that Justin Weaver did a great job and filling that (QB) spot and he gave us everything he had. I feel good about where we're at right now, considering," said Highland coach Brody Benson.
Highland and Maple Mountain both rely heavily on the run, and the big question heading into Friday's game is how Maple Mountain's undersized line will stack up against Highland's size in the trenches.
"I think that's a big question mark. Our O-line has been doing very well, and I know their D-line is a strength of theirs," said Burtenshaw.
Benson is very impressed with what he's seen from Maple Mountain's ground game. Cameron Carson has rushed for 974 yards and 13 TDs on 145 carries this year, while quarterback KJ Hall has added 873 rushing yards and nine TDs.
Maple Mountain isn't one-dimensional though. Hall has completed 55 percent of his passes this year for 831 yards and eight touchdowns.
"Hall, he does some really good things, especially running the ball. His strength is in his legs and his ability to scramble," said Benson. "Carson, also a very good back. He looks lightning quick on film and in person, he runs low to the ground. He doesn't need huge holes, he just needs a crease."
For Highland, Houma doesn't need much of a hole either to do damage. Despite playing sparingly most of the year — the combination of Highland blowout victories early in the year and then missing three games with injury — Houma has still rushed for 508 yards and six TDs.