High school football: Region 9 hopes to repeat '11 title game feat
Last season was a banner year for Region 9, with Southern Utah teams claiming state titles in the big four — football, basketball, baseball and soccer.
The collective 3A dominance started in football as three teams advanced to the semifinals, with Hurricane ultimately defeating Desert Hills for the state championship.
Heading into the 2012 season, as many as four Region 9 teams believe they have a legitimate shot to not only win the league title, but the 3A state championship as well.
"It will be just as tough, maybe tougher," said new Desert Hills quarterback Ty Rutledge. "I believe there will be two teams in the state championship again this year."
Rebuilding Desert Hills would love to be one of those teams again, but Hurricane, Dixie and Pine View all have what it takes to win region and make a similar march in the playoffs.
Dixie coach Blaine Monkres said the bottom tier teams can't be discounted either in the ultra-tough region.
"Even the guys that finish on the bottom, I'm not sure they couldn't go and beat some of the top 3A teams in other regions," said Monkres.
Chris Homer, the coach of the reigning state and region champion Hurricane Tigers, believes the "what ifs" for every team in the region is what makes the upcoming season so exciting.
For Hurricane, the question marks are primarily on the offensive side of the ball as the Tigers replace four linemen, MVP fullback Brian Scott and all-state running back Weston Yardley.
For Desert Hills, there's a ton of uncertainty following the graduation of 26 seniors and several significant coaching changes.
A year after missing the playoffs, Pine View is loaded with returning starters on offense, but only time will tell how sophomore Kody Wilstead handles his lofty expectations at quarterback.
Dixie features three-year starting quarterback Blake Barney and quality receivers for him to throw to, but most of the guys protecting him on the line have no varsity experience.
"I think Region 9 is super tough again. I think we'll be in the mix, but I really think Pine View is going to be great and Dixie is going to be great," said Homer.
Snow Canyon, Cedar and Canyon View round out the conversation in Region 9, but all three are capable of playing spoiler to the perceived big four this year. Cedar proved last year an unheralded team can do damage by advancing to the 3A semifinals, while Snow Canyon and Canyon View are both improved from a year ago.
Canyon View hasn't won a region game since 2005 and is hungry to change its reputation as the perennial doormat of Region 9, which isn't easy against the giants in Region 9.
"Football's a game of leverage. It's hard to establish leverage when you don't have enough lead in your shorts," said Canyon View coach Alex Huxford.
No one had more lead in its shorts than undefeated Hurricane last year. This year, however, some have suggested complacency might set in now that the program has shed its label as unlucky loveable losers by winning the elusive state championship.
Coach Homer hasn't sensed that from his team at all.
"I think our leadership is strong enough that I'm not worried about it right now," he said.
Hurricane's recent dominance makes it the slight favorite in Region 9, but on paper Pine View might be the team most suited to dethrone the champs.