4A football semifinals: Rematch of 2010 title game pits Highland against Mountain Crest
Powerhouse teams to meet in rematch of 2010 championship
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — One point — one single point.
In 2010 Highland captured its first state title since 1986 in double-overtime against Mountain Crest, a perennial favorite heading into the game behind record-breaking quarterback Alex Kuresa, winning 37-36. It was the game that featured eight lead changes, three ties, 829 yards of total offense and a failed two-point conversion that will be forever remembered in infamy.
Now, for the first time since that late-November night, Highland will stand opposite of Mountain Crest back where it all took place at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the 4A semifinals Friday at 11 a.m.
"I hope it's not that close," joked Highland coach Brody Benson. "I expect the same. They're well-coached, they're disciplined (and) they're hard-nosed kids. I always love playing them. We used to open the season and play them in the endowment game and I've always loved that game just cause you knew you were going to get a hard-fought game against a great opponent."
The Mustangs (10-2) fell beneath the cracks early in the season with consecutive losses to Lone Peak and Woods Cross. But, proving to be late bloomers, have steadily improved each week during their current nine-game win streak.
Dating back to Sept. 7, Mountain Crest has averaged a 26 point margin of victory in large part to its defensive success. In the last seven weeks the Mustangs have allowed a mere six points per game, including holding Logan, the defending 4A champions, to 10 points — 28 points below its average before the meeting.
The Rams (8-4), similar to 2010 enter as underdogs, need to have the same efficiently they displayed in the quarterfinals against Orem. The triple-option accounted for over 400 yards on the ground behind quarterback Austin Peterson, fullback Viliami Sekona and wingback Thomas Pembroke.
"That's what we do, we hang our hat on being able to run the football," Benson said. "I think we need to try and chew up the clock and keep their offense off the field as much as we can."
Mountain Crest showcased its ability to stop the run with its 41-0 win against Bountiful. The defense is constantly morphing making its increasingly more difficult to recognize blocking assignments for option teams with defensive ends dropping and linebackers hovering the line of scrimmage.
"They use what they have to their advantage — they're smaller, faster and don't get worn out," Benson said when asked about the Rams' size advantage. "They're going to move around a lot and give us multiple looks.
"Now, on the flip side I love our guys and I feel our guys work our guts out and (try) to flat out be tougher than their opponents. That's the mindset we've all season and as a program from top to bottom."
If the Mustangs elect to crowd the box as an attempt to slow the run, Highland needs to connect downfield — something it's struggled to do at times this season.
"To be honest we got to be able to throw it or they're going to load the box up on us," Benson said. "That's one of the reasons we were able to have success that we had in 2010 — we could throw the football. We have to be able to duplicate that to an extent a little bit (and) loosen their defense up because they have great athletes and fly to the football."
Highland's secondary forced three interceptions against Orem. However, the aggressiveness opened up gaps, specifically on deep middle routes, and ultimately led to 350 yards through the air. In close games it usually comes down to the team that limits big-play opportunities.
Therefore, allowing Mountain Crest's Faimafili Laulu-Pututau, who Benson referred to as, "one of the best, if not the best receiver in 4A" and Eddy Hall behind coverage is unaffordable.