Perhaps more so than any other classification, realignment has changed the complexion of the 3A playoffs. In years past the first round and quarterfinals were often very predictable, but that certainly isn't the case this year.
Seven teams dropped down from 4A to 3A last summer, and two of the seven are still very much in the thick of the playoff race with the quarterfinals getting underway this Friday.
In the top half of the bracket, Hurricane hosts Grantsville while Juan Diego hosts Spanish Fork. In the bottom half of the bracket, Cedar travels to Delta while Stansbury welcomes Desert Hills.
Only Grantsville at Hurricane seems like a mismatch on paper. However, before fans get excited about a No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash in the semifinals between Hurricane and Juan Diego, the Soaring Eagle still have to get by a very good Spanish Fork team.
"They are a talented team and we will have our hands full," said Juan Diego coach John Colosimo.
As dangerous as Spanish Fork's offense has been this year, Juan Diego's defense has recorded three straight shutouts and is only allowing 7.9 points this year. It skunked a Dixie team that was averaging 35 points heading into the playoffs with a 41-0 first-round win last week.
It would seem Spanish Fork's offense will have its hands full too.
While there are clear favorites in the upper bracket quarterfinals, you can flip a coin with the bottom bracket. In fact, of the four teams still alive — Delta, Cedar, Stansbury and Desert Hills — one could make a legitimate case for any of the four ultimately advancing to the 3A championship game in two weeks.
Cedar has won five of six entering the quarterfinals after starting the season 0-4 while facing a brutal schedule. Quarterback John Ursua has really come on in the latter half of the season, and just about every coach who sees him play agrees he's the most athletic player they've seen in 3A.
Delta's defense will have a tough time slowing Ursua and Cedar's option offense, but the reverse is also true. Delta's option offense has been outstanding all season, and led by Christian Hatch and Colin Christensen, the Rabbits have won 10 straight heading into the quarterfinals.
"I like how we match up," said Delta coach Russ Henrie. "They're a hard-nosed football team that likes to run option, and we like to think we're a hard-nosed football team too."
Stansbury runs the option as well, and the third-year school does it as well as anyone. Quarterback Chase Christiansen has rushed for 1,117 yards and 18 TDs this year for the Stallions, whose only loss was in Week 3 to Delta.
Stansbury is confident about moving the ball against Desert Hills after the Thunder gave up 48 points to Cedar in the final game of the regular season. Desert Hills coach Jake Nelson believes that loss was a good wake-up call for his team though.
"It gave us the opportunity to know the mistakes we made in that Cedar game and now we can correct them. It's more of a positive and more of a negative," said Nelson. "It's all about assignments, you have to stick to the assignments and gaps and if you do those things it will go well for you."
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