SALT LAKE CITY — The top two 4A football teams have dominated the high school headlines for the last month, but it wasn't for their talent or accomplishments on the field.
Instead, top-ranked East and second-ranked Timpview made headlines for disciplinary action taken against both programs for playing ineligible players.
After three hearings, one at the region level and two at the state level, both teams were forced to forfeit games due to playing ineligible athletes this season.
East was found to have played four ineligible athletes, including one starter who played in every game except a single region contest. The Board of Trustees was the third and final group to hear the case, and punished the school by suspending head coach Brandon Matich for three games and forcing them to forfeit six of the seven wins in which those players participated.
The forfeits dropped the team from a No, 1 seed to a fourth seed and sent them on the road for the playoffs, starting with a play-in game against Mountain View and then a first-round contest against top-seeded Herriman. East easily won both games and then a quarterfinal contest against Box Elder last weekend to earn a spot in this Friday's semifinal against Timpview at Rice-Eccles in the 2:30 p.m. game.
In Timpview's case, they allowed an ineligible player to participate in four games and the school was forced to forfeit all four of those games. Because two of those were region games, the T-birds fell from Region 8's top seed to the third seed. That change meant the team had to face defending 4A champion Logan in their first-round contest — in Logan. Timpview not only beat Logan, which was ranked third at the time, in that first game, but also Woods Cross last week to earn its semifinal berth.
The rulings created some of the tournament's best match-ups early in the playoffs. Friday's semifinal showdown is a rematch of last year's 4A semifinal game in which East defeated Timpview 24-10.
The game marks the return of East head coach Brandon Matich to the sideline, as he was forced to miss the Leopards first three playoff games because of the violations. He said he's noticed a significant difference in the team's practices this week.
"They are excited," Matich said. "The feeling at practice is a lot more intense. The Focus is more acute. You can tell it's a bigger moment for them."
Timpview head coach Cary Whittingham was on the sideline of last year's loss as an assistant. He said coaches and players have worked hard to focus on football and ignore the controversy off the field.
"We haven't focused on that whole thing," said Whittingham. "This is a big game for them. East beat us last year, knocked us out. This one is a big obstacle and they know that."
While the T-bird players have tried not to get involved in the hearings that changed the playoff seeding for the tournament, the Leopard players had no such luxury. The senior captains plead their case on the news and in the final hearing, and the emotional rollercoaster took a toll on them in at least one game — their only loss (before the forfeits), which was a 51-34 defeat at Logan.
Unfortunately, because of the circumstances surrounding the game, which occurred between the second and third hearing on the subject, no one is quite sure what that loss really says about the team and it's ability to defend a team that can pass the football.
"I'd like to think of it as an anomaly," said Matich, who found out he was going to be allowed to coach while listening to the radio on his way to Logan. "It was a week-long rollercoaster. I got there late, and I think me showing up was sending a mixed message."
He said both coaches and players were lethargic.
"It was like a morgue," he said. "I'd never see this before."
Matich said Timpview will be a significant task for his senior-loaded team.
The Leopards are led by junior Ula Tolutau, who has 10 rushing touchdowns, junior quarterback Isaac Valles, who has 10 rushing touchdowns and 14 passing touchdowns, and junior Preston Curtis, who has nine rushing touchdowns.
Senior receiver and defensive back Zack Swenson, senior Jewka Patetefa and senior John Fakahafua give the Leopards leadership and athleticism that will be tough to stop.
They're experienced enough to understand the challenges they face in the T-birds.
"Timpview is a very different team from Logan," said Matich. "They really emphasize running the ball; they have two good running backs and (quarterback Jake) Lloyd can run the ball well. And they have a plethora of great receivers he can throw to."
He said that despite the coaching change, the T-birds haven't lost a step because their offensive coordinator remains the same.
"Chad Van Orden is the one constant that's always been there," he said. "And that's why they still look like Timpview even with the coaching change."
If East is vulnerable in the secondary, Timpview has the players to expose them. Lloyd has amassed 3,300 yards passing and 46 touchdowns. He's thrown just six interceptions and was nearly flawless at Logan. Dax Raymond is clearly his favorite target with 1,260 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns, but six other players have multiple receiving touchdowns this season.
Greg Aspinall carries the ball most of the time with 842 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the T-birds have plenty of options.
Whittingham said the T-birds don't care about rankings, records, seedings or hype.
"It's going to be key to be able to run the ball," said Whittingham. "I don't know if (the Logan game) is a true indicator of whether or not East can be passed on. But we do need to be able to run the ball, and we're definitely counting on our passing game."
Lloyd was the starting quarterback in last year's semifinal loss, and his experience helps.
"He just continues to grow," said Whittingham. "The ids know they're probably the underdog, but they've always been confident knowing they could win every game they've played in. They're humble kids, hard working kids and they know what we're up against. They know if they don't do things right, they can lose."
Scoring offense: 40.8 ppg
Scoring defense: 14.1 ppg
Passing leader: Jake Lloyd (191-297, 64.3%, 3,300 yards, 46 TDs, 6 INTs)
Rushing leaders: Gregson Aspinall (127 carries, 842 yards, 11 TDs), Braydon Galland (43, 229, 1)
Receiving leader: Dax Raymond (65 rec., 1,260 yards, 20 TDs), Rhett Van Leeuwen (32, 643, 8)
Tackles leader: Emmett Tela (87 tackles)
Sacks leader: Pita Taumoepenu (20 sacks)
Int. leader: Tyler Solorzano, Isaiah Holloway (3 INTs)
Scoring offense: 39.9 ppg
Scoring defense: 10.5 ppg
Passing leader: Isaac Valles (51-103, 49.5%, 1,143 yards, 14 TDs, 2 INTs)
Rushing leaders: Ula Tulutau (173 carries, 1,285 yards, 10 TDs), Isaac Valles (125, 671, 10)
Receiving leader: John Fakahafua (22 rec., 426 yards, 3 TDs), Zach Swenson (11, 273, 4)
Tackles leader: Sesi Salt (44 tackles)
Sacks leader: Korey Rush (13.5 sacks)
Int. leader: T. Laupata, P. Burnett, J. Patetefa (2)TIMPVIEW GAME-BY-GAME
8/17 … Alta 33, Timpview 31
8/24 … Timpview 28, Westlake 0 (forfeit loss)
8/31 … Timpview 36, L. Peak 33 (forfeit loss)
9/7 … Timpview 48, Mtn. View 7 (forfeit loss)
9/14 … Timpview 38, Maple 7 (forfeit loss)
9/21 … Timpview 38, Timpanogos 13
9/28 … Timpview 34, Orem 12
10/4 … Timpview 57, Salem Hills 0
10/10 … Timpview 48, Springville 20
10/18 … Timpview 48, Provo 16
10/26 … Timpview 49, Logan 14
11/2 … Timpview 35, Woods Cross 14
8/17 … East 35, Pine View 0 (forfeit loss)
8/24 … East 48, West 9 (forfeit loss)
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9/7 … East 43, Fremont 0 (forfeit loss)
9/14 … East 28, Woods Cross 7 (forfeit loss)
9/21 … East 47, Clearfield 0 (forfeit loss)
9/28 … East 66, Cyprus 10
10/5 … East 47, Bountiful 13 (forfeit loss)
10/12 … East 34, Highland 13
10/17 … Logan 51, East 34
10/23 … East 49, Mountain View 0
10/27 … East 27, Herriman 16
11/2 … East 21, Box Elder 74A semis on the air
Timpview vs. East
Friday, 2:30 p.m.
Parry's Power: East by 5