For thousands of high school football players around the state, the past 10 weeks have all been a build-up to this weekend — the first round of the playoffs.
"It's for real now. You lose, you're done," said Spanish Fork coach Kirk Chambers.
Beginning Friday at 2 p.m. and continuing until Saturday evening, 64 teams will take the field with hopes of advancing to the next round of the state tournament.
"At the beginning of the year there's that excitement, and there's a whole new excitement when the playoffs start cause everyone is 0-0 again. Everybody has that (mentality), if we can win four games we can be state champs," said Bingham coach Dave Peck.
This is Peck's 29th year of coaching, but he said the excitement and anxiety of the first round never wears off. It's basically Christmas morning two months early.
Starting at 2 p.m. with a 2A quarterfinal game at South Summit and culminating at 9 p.m. with the conclusion of 6 o'clock kick-offs at Alta, Northridge and Desert Hills, there's roughly seven hours of nonstop prep football action on Friday.
The action continues with four more games on Saturday, and perhaps it's only fitting the last of the 32 games this weekend is the controversial East at Herriman juggernaut at 5 p.m.
Thanks to smart phones, Twitter and seven games scheduled to be streamed live at deseretnews.com, you can keep tabs on all 32 games no matter where you are.
"That's is what you play for the whole season. Everything we do kind of gauges around (Friday). That's when you want to peak, when you want to play your really best, when you start," said Bountiful coach Larry Wall. "We tell our kids if you take care of business you earn the right to play another week, and then you go through it again."
Even though the stakes increase each week of the playoffs, Peck said the first round is always the most nerve-racking.
"It seems like you always see one or two teams upset in the first round. By the time you get up to the semifinals or finals, you're more relaxed," said Peck. "At that point it's almost a relief that we accomplished a lot of our goals."
For state title contenders like the five ranked No. 1 by the Deseret News heading into the playoffs — Jordan, East, Juan Diego, San Juan and Duchesne — Friday and Saturday are all about taking the first step.
All five have known since summer they had a special group capable of winning a state championship. They've proved it throughout the regular season, and are anxious to back it up with a championship.
Of the five, all eyes will be on East's pursuit of its first state title since 1996.
Many believe the Leopards have no business being in the playoffs after using four ineligible players most the year. The UHSAA, however, showed mercy toward East and allowed the school to enter the playoffs as a No. 4 seed.
East's Patrick Palau knows his team is fortunate to still be playing, and after Tuesday's win over Mountain View he expressed gratitude for the rare second-chance opportunity.
Of the five top-ranked teams, 5A's Jordan has the longest state championship drought dating back to 1994.
The other three No. 1s are no stranger to this time of year. Juan Diego is seeking a fourth title in five years, San Juan is chasing a third title in four years and Duchesne is chasing a three-peat.
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