5A high school football preview: Syracuse at West

Published: Thursday, Nov. 3 2011 8:00 a.m. MDT

Syracuse (7-3) at West (6-5)

5A state tournament quarterfinal

Friday, 3:30 p.m.

Parry's Power Guide: Syracuse by 19

All-time series: First meeting

Coach vs. coach: First meeting between Syracuse's Russ Jones and West's Justin Spencer

These are two teams that some folks might've figured would not still be standing now, especially after both of them fell behind by scores of 10-0 in the first half of their respective 5A playoff openers last week.

But, sure enough, Syracuse and West are very much alive and breathing, and they'll square off in Friday's 5A quarterfinals at Gean Plaga Stadium in Salt Lake City.

West rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit for a convincing 21-10 victory over Riverton in last week's playoff opener — the Panthers' first postseason triumph since 1997, snapping a string of seven straight postseason setbacks. West High has piled up a superb 17-5 playoff record all-time on its home field.

Perhaps last week's comeback win should come as no big surprise to the Panthers, though, since they've now outscored their last two opponents by a combined margin of 68-23 and, despite a 6-5 season slate, have won four of their last six games.

West quarterback Alex Espinosa has thrown for more than 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns, and running back Eric Takenaka has piled up over 900 yards rushing with 15 TDs — including all three of the Panthers' touchdowns in last week's playoff win.

Taurus Dickerson is the Panthers' top receiver with 26 receptions for 623 yards — an eye-popping average of almost 24 yards per catch — and 11 touchdowns.

Syracuse, meanwhile, shocked the world last week by stunning heavily favored Alta, 16-10, in the Titans' playoff opener. It marked the first time since 2005 that a No. 1 seed has suffered a first-round defeat in the 5A ranks.

Keep in mind that this was an Alta team that had lost only one other time all season long, as the Hawks came soaring into the 5A playoffs with an eight-game winning streak and had been piling up points at an average rate of almost 40 per game.

And what did all that mean to Syracuse? Well, apparently not much since, after falling behind 10-0 midway through the first quarter, the Titans' defense shut down Alta's vaunted attack the rest of the way and stopped a late scoring drive to preserve the victory.

Syracuse has allowed only around 14 points per game this year, and the Titans have yielded more than 15 points in a game only three times all season.

"We knocked out their starting quarterback and their second-string quarterback, too," Syracuse coach Russ Jones said of his team's tenacious defensive effort against the Hawks. "We really knocked 'em in the mouth. It was a brawl.

"This will be a good matchup, too, I think. Those (West) guys are gonna come out and get after us, and we're going to come out and get after them. So it's gonna be another brawl, just like last week.

"West has a big, physical and athletic bunch of kids. We'll need to try and keep their offense off the field and keep ours on the field. And we'll need to play some good, tough defense again. Like every week, it comes down to turnovers, penalties and ball control.

"Everybody's healthy and ready to go," Jones said of his team. "We've had a good week of practice, and I think our kids are up for the challenge again."

Syracuse statistical breakdown

Scoring offense: 21.5 ppg

Scoring defense: 14.2 ppg

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