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Note: Millard finished with a 9-3 overall record and was second in the 2A North region with a 6-1 mark in 2011. It lost to Manti, 37-9, in the 2A championship game.
FILLMORE — Heading into last year’s 2A championship game against Manti, Millard’s football team was feeling pretty good about the prospects of ending a nine-year title drought.
Even though it lost to Manti a month earlier in the regular-season finale, it was a tight game throughout, and Millard believed the 20-14 final score could’ve easily been reversed with a break here or there.
The rematch was anything but close though. Manti built a 37-0 lead after three quarters on its way to an incredibly easy 37-9 victory.
“We were just as surprised as anybody. We thought we were 100-percent prepared, emotionally ready to go,” said Millard coach Marshall Sheriff. “In the state game, they were either a lot better than I gave them credit for, or we surprised them the first game and they decided to play to their potential the second game.”
Heading into the 2012 season, that loss still resonates throughout the Millard program.
“We’re pretty motivated this year 'cause we lost state pretty bad. We’re letting that burn deep down inside of us and that’s helping us work even harder,” said Millard running back Jesse Rhodes.
That title-game loss was particularly frustrating for Rhodes. He led the entire state last year with 1,723 rushing yards, but Manti limited him to just 75 yards in the championship — and only seven yards in the first half.
Rhodes shared the limelight last year with fellow running back Pancho Alcala, who added 1,144 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Eagles. Alcala graduated though, and Millard’s rushing attack is now all about Rhodes.
“I feel like I can step up this year. I feel like I’ve been working pretty hard,” said Rhodes.
Rhodes is one of five returning starters on each side of the ball, but Sheriff said the voids Millard must fill are pretty significant.
“We lost some really good players. We’re really nervous about the holes some of those players left. We should be OK if we fill those holes, but if we can’t, we could have a long season,” said Sheriff.
The biggest concern is on the offensive line. Jeremy Aleman and DonE Fullmer are solid returning starters in the trenches, but after them there’s a huge drop in experience. During Millard’s team camp in mid-July, Sheriff said it was a roller coaster trying to get the new offensive linemen on the same page.
“They were basic JV players last year, and now they have to step up and be varsity players,” said Sheriff.
How quickly the new linemen adjust to their new roles will determine whether or not Millard can challenge Manti and South Summit for the 2A North region title.
Despite Alcala’s departure from Millard’s explosive offense, Sheriff isn’t too concerned about replacing his production. Senior Dakota Bullock and junior T.J. Stevens have had great offseasons and should combine to match Alcala’s productivity at the up-back position in the inverted wishbone.
“They don’t have as many attributes in football that Pancho did, but they’re bigger,” said Sheriff.
Bullock saw quite a bit of varsity time last season, carrying the ball 31 times for 93 yards and a touchdown. Stevens, however, has never taken a snap at any level for Millard.
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