2A high school football preview: Millard vs. San Juan

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 1 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

Millard (8-2) at San Juan (10-0)

2A state tournament semifinal

Saturday, 2 p.m. (at Pleasant Grove High School)

Parry's Power Guide: San Juan by 3

All-time series: Millard leads 18-14

Coach vs. coach: Millard's Marshall Sheriff leads San Juan's Monty Lee, 4-3

Last meeting: Sept. 26, 2008, San Juan 33, Millard 14

For small-school football fans, Saturday's semifinal between Millard and San Juan can't get here soon enough. The teams didn't play during the regular season, but everyone knew these state title contenders would likely meet up deep in the state tournament.

That moment will arrive Saturday at 2 p.m. at Pleasant Grove High School.

Millard features the two leading rushers in the state. Junior Jesse Rhodes has racked up 1,478 yards and 15 touchdowns, while senior Pancho Alcala has added 870 yards and 13 TDs.

Rhodes has rushed for more than 200 yards three times this year, and is coming off a 136-yard, two-TD performance against Richfield in the quarterfinals.

But San Juan's defense will be unlike anything the Eagles have seen all year. The Broncos only conceded 5.7 ppg this year, and the most yards they've given up to a single rusher all season was 93 to Beaver's Boedi Lofland in a 25-13 victory on Oct. 7.

Coincidently enough, that's the only game No. 1 San Juan won by less than 20 points all year, so Saturday's game plan is pretty simple for Millard — establish the run.

"It doesn't matter how big they are, how great their defense is, we should be able to use our ground-and-pound offense to score points. I hope our kids have that mindset. I don't want to go away from what makes us good," said Millard coach Marshall Sheriff. "I would like to think we can run on anybody."

That's what Millard hoped in the semifinals the past two years as well, but South Summit beat the Eagles 45-6 in 2009 and 38-7 in 2010. Most of this year's starters were starters last year as well, and they've been longing for another semifinal opportunity for quite a while.

San Juan coach Monty Lee expects that experience and dominant run game to present some challenges.

"They're going to be quick, they're going to be physical. They have good speed. You can tell they have great offensive performances from their running backs, they're probably hungry because these kids were all playing last year," said Lee, who admits his team has been good against the run all year, but they haven't faced a duo quite like Millard's backs.

Unlike Millard, San Juan is much more balanced offensively. Quarterback Barkley Christensen has passed for 1,746 yards and 18 touchdowns, while on the ground he's one of three ball carriers who's gone over 300 yards for the Broncos.

Millard has been good defensively all year, limiting teams to 13.4 ppg, but Christensen presents some unique challenges.

"He runs very well, even when he gets flushed out of the pocket. He's definitely one of the ones you have to contain, or he'll beat you. He extends plays when he should've been sacked, breaks tackles, rolls other way and then throws it downfield," said Sheriff.

Keeping Christensen on the sideline as much as possible will be key for Millard.

The Eagles need to cut down on their turnovers as well. Against Richfield last week, they fumbled it away three times and only led 7-6 at the half. Millard pulled away for the comfortable 42-6 lead in the second half, but if it fumbles three times against San Juan, the Broncos could easily turn those extra possessions into points.