SALT LAKE CITY — The Hurricane Tigers are back in a familiar place, returning to the semifinal round for the fourth consecutive year, but will face an unfamiliar opponent in the Spanish Fork Dons.
No. 1-ranked and undefeated Hurricane will be the favorite to win when the two schools meet in Rice Eccles Stadium Thursday. The Tigers are fresh off of their first shutout of the season in a 41-0 win over Grantsville.
Hurricane is averaging 42 points per game this season and surrendering only 13.5. One would think those numbers would comfort a coach, but Hurricane coach Chris Homer is actually worried by them. He's worried his team hasn't been tested in a close game.
"I'm concerned if we are going to react the way we need to when the game gets tight because we haven't been in that situation all season."
Tigers fans are hoping the game won't be as close as Homer predicts, and it might not be thanks to the incredible trio of runnig of Brian Scott, Weston Yardley and Adam Thompson. Scott, the fullback, headlines the show with over 1,300 yards and 25 touchdowns so far this season, but Yardley and Thompson each have big-play capability and are just as dangerous if they get into open space. The three combined for 273 yards and six touchdowns in last week's game.
Spanish Fork linebacker, Colin Argyle, will have his work cut out for him as he will try to lead the Don defense in the daunting task of slowing down the Hurricane rushing attack. Argyle leads the defense with 111 tackles.
Defensively, the Tigers feel confident having faced several teams this season who run the spread offense. "They remind me a lot of Dessert Hills down here in St. George with their talented quarterback and receivers.." Said Homer. Hurricane defeated Desert Hills 35-8 in October.
The Dons found their way in to the semifinal round by doing something Hurricane has not been able to do, beat the three-time defending champions from Juan Diego. Spanish Fork was down 14-0 at the half but switched to a no-huddle, shotgun attack in the second half to earn the 21-14 win. As Spanish Fork head coach Matt Christensen simply explained, "It worked out for us."
Christensen is very aware of Hurricane's athleticism and overall team speed, but he says the key to winning for Spanish Fork will be to do all the cliché little things — like take care of the ball, and take advantage of their opportunities.
The Dons are led by their senior quarterback Hayden Nielsen who has thrown for 2,604 yards and 25 touchdowns. Nielsen does a great job and spreading the ball around to six or seven different receivers.
"When you look at his numbers over the past three years there is no denying that he's pretty incredible," complimented Homer.
Surprisingly, Nielsen isn't the player that Homer is most concerned about — that player is running back Christian Taele.
"He (Taele) is their scariest player," claimed Homer. "Not only is he a great runner, but he is great at catching passes out of the backfield as well. It will put a lot of pressure on our middle linebackers."
The game is set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at Rice Eccles Stadium.
The winner will take on the winner of Cedar and Dessert Hills for the 3A state title.
SPANISH FORK STATS
Scoring offense: 33.3 ppg
Scoring defense: 18.4 ppg
Passing leader: Hayden Nielsen (163-293, 55.6%, 2,604 yards, 25 TDs, 8 INTs)
Tackles leader: Colin Argyle (111 tackles)
Sacks leader: Colin Argyle (3.5 sacks)
Int. leader: Jordan Barclay, Cam Money (3 INTs)
Scoring offense: 41.1 ppg
Scoring defense: 13.5 ppg
Passing leader: Taylor Parker (42-64, 65.6%, 627 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT)
Receiving leader: Colton Marshall (15 rec., 224 yards, 1 TD)
Tackles leader: Jared Edwards (98 tackles)
Sacks leader: Bryan lee (4 sacks)
Interceptions leader: Weston Yardley (8 INTs)
SPANISH FORK GAME-BY-GAME
Aug. 19 … Spanish Fork 26, Park City 8
Aug. 26 … Spanish Fork 35, Springville 7
Sept. 2 … American Fork 28, Spanish Fork 27
Sept. 9 … Logan 48, Spanish Fork 28
Sept. 16… Spanish Fork 41, Judge 16
Sept. 23 … Spanish Fork 49, Juab 18
Sept. 30 … Delta 35, Spanish Fork 14
Oct. 7 … Spanish Fork 27, North Sanpete 7
Oct. 14 … Spanish Fork 54, Payson 20
Oct. 19 …Spanish Fork 42, Carbon 0
Oct. 28 …Spanish Fork 35, Morgan 20
Nov. 4 … Spanish Fork 21, Juan Diego 14
Aug. 19 … Hurricane 33, Skyline 14
Aug. 26 … Hurricane 48, West Jordan 36
Sept. 2 … Hurricane 52, Tooele 7
Sept. 9 … Hurricane 29, Cedar 20
Sept. 16… Hurricane 51, Dixie 21
Sept. 23 … Hurricane 42, Snow Canyon 7
Sept. 30 … Hurricane 35, Pine View 21
Oct. 13… Hurricane 35, Desert Hills 8
Oct. 20 … Hurricane 44, Canyon View 7
Oct. 28 … Hurricane 42, Wasatch 7
Nov. 4 … Hurricane 41, Grantsville 0