Throughout all of last season, San Juan looked like an unstoppable force poised for a third straight 2A state championship.
Millard derailed those hopes though with a surprising semifinal victory and revealed that San Juan had some weaknesses after all and exploited them. Nobody from the 2A South region came close to doing that during the regular season as San Juan won its seven games by an average of 27 points.
Incredibly, the Broncos only started four seniors on that team, and with most of those starters returning, one can't help but wonder if a fifth-straight region title is an inevitability at this point.
Coach Monty Lee certainly doesn't want his players looking at it that way.
"I just think that hunger needs to be there. You need to always be able to dangle that carrot out in front of them. I don't want them to think about state championships and state playoffs, I want them to think about the game ahead of them and keep things in perspective," said Lee. "Once you start looking ahead, the edge is taken off."
That might've been what happened in the 35-20 semifinal loss to Millard. The Broncos were surrendering less than a touchdown per game heading into the semis, but the defense got torched allowing over 400 rushing yards and five TDs.
If anything, that loss made San Juan's nine defensive returning starters even hungrier.
Richfield, Beaver and Enterprise, who tied for second in 2A South last season, know they face an uphill battle to catch San Juan. They're excited about the challenge though.
"I feel as good as we probably ever have since I've been here," said Richfield coach Corey Morrison. "We have almost every one of our skill kids back and a couple of our lineman."
Like San Juan, Richfield's season was ended by Millard last year, and the game wasn't close at all.
Richfield plays at San Juan in Week 6 this year, and Morrison said it's important his team has momentum heading into the game.
South Sevier coach Weston Zabriskie jokes that it will take a perfect game to beat San Juan. He believes the football tradition down in Blanding is a big part of it.
"They walk onto the field and those kids have been so used to winning they just know they're going to win," said Zabriskie.
"In most every other sport we're quite competitive with them, but they have that football attitude, that football tradition. One of the biggest things to get San Juan is change the attitude, don't be intimidated when they come out on the field."
That's much easier said than done.
Beaver came closer than anybody in the Southern region to knocking off San Juan last season. With the game tied 7-7 at the half though, the Broncos returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown and coasted the rest of the way.
This year, Beaver hosts San Juan — and Richfield — and it's hoping home-field advantage and a strong group of returning starters might be enough to dethrone the defending region champs.
"What we have this year is some really good senior leadership, and we have some good juniors. This is one of the first times in a while we'd had two groups, a junior and senior class that are pretty good," said Beaver coach Steve Hutchings.
Complacency in Blanding might be the only way to knock off San Juan, but coach Lee will do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.
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