Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
For virtually the entire football season, No. 1 San Juan and No. 2 Manti have been on a collision course for the 2A state championship game.
Those two dominant defensive teams will take the field in their respective semifinals this Saturday at Southern Utah University knowing the title showdown they've been dreaming about is just around the corner.
Only South Summit and Grand can stop what many believe is an inevitability now. Both are embracing their underdog roles.
"We'll definitely use that as motivation. We did the same thing last week. Millard was picked to beat us by 22 points, and nobody expected us to win but us," said Grand coach Dennis Wells. "It's kind of exciting when you can win games you're not expected to win."
The semifinal party crashers are an even bigger underdog against defending 2A champion Manti in Saturday's first game at Eccles Coliseum at 11 a.m.
The second semifinal features San Juan vs. South Summit at 2 p.m., and South Summit coach Jerry Parker knows few are giving his team a chance.
"We didn't take care of Manti when we had the opportunity, and we haven't beat San Juan ever. I definitely think they're the front-runners," said Parker. "Early in the season, I thought we'd be one of them, but now we've got to do it from the back door."
San Juan is 6-0 all-time against South Summit, including victories in the 2A championship games back in 2009 and 2010. The stingy 2010 Broncos only allowed 3.3 points per game that season, and that defense is regarded as one of the best in state history. This year's team isn't far behind.
"They have a really good scheme on both sides of the ball, and I think their kids are true football players. They know what's going on, and they're talented," said Parker.
Turnovers were a problem in South Summit's shutout loss to Manti back in Week 6, and they were a problem again in last week's narrow quarterfinal win over Richfield.
Against a San Juan defense that just doesn't give up points, South Summit quarterback Caden Christenson can't afford to get careless with the football.
Grand can't afford turnovers, either. Manti is only surrendering 9.8 ppg, and it's coming off an impressive 38-7 quarterfinal win over Beaver.
For a Grand team that lost to Beaver 41-13 back in Week 9, it faces a seemingly impossibly task in the semifinals.
"It's one game at a time, and it depends on which team shows up. The main thing is getting them to believe in themselves," said Wells.
"We feel like we need to stop people's run game to start with. If we can stop the run game, we at least have a fighting chance 'cause we've made them one dimensional," said Manti coach Cole Meacham.
Grand's quarterbacks have thrown 15 interceptions to just 10 touchdowns this year, a trend that doesn't bode well if Manti shuts down Grand's rush attack.
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