High school football: Region 3 teams look to bounce back this season

Published: Saturday, Aug. 11 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Whether it was Alta crashing out of the playoffs much earlier than expected, Cottonwood giving up what seemed like 150 points in its playoff ouster, Brighton getting manhandled in a quick one-and-done playoff appearance or Jordan letting eventual state champ Lone Peak off the ropes in the semifinals, collectively Region 3 teams know last year didn't meet expectations..

All, including non-playoff teams West Jordan and Copper Hills, are motivated to fix what unfolded last season.

Two are overhauling their offense, another its defense, while everyone is doing everything in their power to avoid similar letdowns.

"As a coach it definitely re-motivates me and it motivates my staff to really put in the extra time and effort. I do remind these kids, it's that easy. When you get to the playoffs it's one and done," said Alta coach Bob Stephens, whose team was upset by Syracuse in the first round after running the tables on a perfect 5-0 region season. "You can't take anything for granted and anything lightly. You have to go in every game like it's your last game,"

The Hawks are a slight favorite to repeat in what should be a fantastic Region 3 campaign, but Alta doesn't return a single defensive starter. In a region with star quarterbacks at both Cottonwood and Jordan, the lack of experience defensively is a legitimate concern.

Alta travels to Jordan in the first game of region play on Sept. 14, and that early-season clash might ultimately determine the region title — especially if Jordan wins.

Many coaches around the state believe the Beetdiggers are the sleeper pick to win the 5A state championship this year with all-state quarterback Austin Kafentzis returning along with all five offensive lineman.

Kafentzis was knocked out of last year's semifinal loss to Lone Peak with a broken collarbone, and that defeat hasn't sat well with he and his teammates this offseason.

"I think our kids are still bothered by that and its spurred them into working hard," said Jordan coach Eric Kjar.

Alta and Jordan were the second- and third-highest scoring teams in 5A last year, and considering the offensive talent on both teams again this year, it's going to take a great defensive effort by someone in Region 3 to deny a 1-2 finish for Alta and Jordan.

Cottonwood first-year coach Greg Croshaw hopes to transform the Colts into that team. Cottonwood was the fifth-highest scoring 5A team a year ago at 29 points per game, but it was the fourth-worst defensive team, allowing more than 34 ppg.

"We're probably going to have more guys play both ways," Croshaw said. "We've got to shore up that defense. You can't take all the great players and put them on offense. We're going to use some of them defensively."

Brighton, which beat Jordan last year to create a three-way tie for second place in Region 3, might be a defensive sleeper as well, led by Ute commit Uaea Masina.

Even though Brighton isn't abandoning its run-first mentality, coach Ryan Bullett said it's imperative his team becomes a more efficient passing team.

"This league is stacked at quarterback and receiver," Bullett said. "We've got to be able to throw the ball halfway through the year with consistency to make the playoffs in our league."

With Masina at running back and all five lineman who blocked for him late last year returning, Brighton's running game has the potential to be very good — but it won't matter if teams are putting nine guys in the box.

In an effort to crash the Region 3 party and sneak into the playoffs this year, West Jordan is putting a greater emphasis on the run this season out of the spread offense. Coach Mike Morgan is pretty pleased with how his team has responded.