Alta (9-2) at Syracuse (10-0)
5A state tournament quarterfinal
Friday, 5 p.m.
Parry’s Power Guide: Alta by 4
All-time series: Series tied 1-1
Last meeting: Oct. 28, 2011 (5A first round) — Syracuse 16, Alta 10
SYRACUSE — Will the Hawks get revenge and redemption? Or will the Titans turn in a repeat performance in this heralded rematch?
The stage is set for a promising showdown when Alta and Syracuse square off Friday afternoon in a 5A quarterfinal clash that has all the makings of one of the premier prep matchups in the state this weekend.
In this corner stands undefeated Region 1 champion Syracuse, which brings an unbeaten 10-0 record and a dominant defense into Friday's duel with a 9-2 Alta team that only needs to turn back the clock a year to find some extra motivation.
On Oct. 28, 2011, the Titans took the No. 4 seeding from their region on the road to face a once-beaten bunch of Hawks, who had rampaged their way to the Region 3 title.
But Syracuse stunned Alta that day, 16-10, using its trademark tenacious defense to shut down a Hawks team which had averaged over 39 points per game for the season and more than 40 ppg in league play.
Well, little more than a year later, the Hawks get their chance for revenge and redemption.
But Alta head coach Bob Stephens doesn't see things quite like that.
"I don't look at it that way," he said. "We're just trying to focus on this year because this year's Syracuse team is different than last year's Syracuse team, and this year's Alta team is different than last year's Alta team. We want to look at the present and the future instead of dwell on the past.
"Motivation or not, we have to try and get to the semifinals and go from there, and I think Syracuse is even better than they were last year. We struggled offensively last year against them, and I think they're just as good defensively this year if not better. And their offense is better than it was last year.
"It's a huge game," Stephens said. "Syracuse is a very good team, obviously, and we're excited about it. It's a great opportunity for us."
Stephens' Syracuse counterpart, Titans head coach Russ Jones, says last year's game won't have any bearing on this year's matchup, other than perhaps giving his kids some confidence that they can hang with the Hawks.
"Our kids all know about it because there's still quite a few of them that were there last year," he said. "We've just got to come out and play as hard as we did last year, with a little chip on our shoulder. I'm sure they're playing the revenge card, and I'm glad we're playing at home.
"Our kids feel good about the way they're playing, and I think they're ready for the challenge. Our kids have got to come out and execute and play hard, have good ball security with no turnovers, and keep the penalties down.
"Our kids have got a lot of confidence, and they feel real good about the preparation we've had this week, for the most part," Jones said. "They're excited about playing this game, about playing on their home field with the home crowd in their community behind them."
Defense may very well hold the key to Friday's outcome. While the Hawks average almost 35 points per game and the Titans are scoring at a 33 ppg clip, the Syracuse defense has allowed an average of just seven points per game to its opponents this season.
Syracuse spanked Viewmont 54-0 in the opening round of the playoffs last Friday, the Titans' fourth shutout of the season, and they haven't given up more than 14 points in any game all year long. Wyatt German (87 tackles), Kavika Fonua (75 tackles), Jace Purser (8.5 sacks), Cardon Malon (7 sacks) and Diante Mitchell (4 interceptions) lead the way.
But while the Titans' dynamic defense hogs most of the headlines, their offense, spearheaded by quarterback Brock Anderson (1,712 yards passing with 24 touchdowns, and just two interceptions) can make life miserable for opponents as well.
"Our defense has their work cut out and I think their defense has its work cut out, too," Stephens said. "For us, offensively, the key is going to be how well our offensive line plays. Our offensive line has a very big challenge ahead of them, and if they play well and block well and are able to pass-protect well, that's going to be a big key for us.
"Our receiving corps is very good, stronger than they were last year, I think, and that's definitely the strength of our offense. Hopefully all that works well for us on Friday.
"Their four down linemen up front are solid, their defensive backs are solid, and they're well-coached and good athletes as well," Stephens said, sizing up the Titans' "D." "I think they're just as good as last year. (D-lineman Hunter) Dimick hurt us the most last year, absolutely, but the front four that they have this year, overall, are just as good or better than last year. Their four guys up front are very solid. So we've got to be on our game with our offensive line."
The Hawks have an impressive passing attack, fueled by the play of quarterback Chipper Lucero, who has thrown for a whopping 3,106 yards and 34 touchdowns. His favorite targets are Ammon Barker (55 catches for 1,110 yards and 12 TDs), Mack Richards (53 receptions, 790 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Handley Harris (55 catches, 726 yards and eight TDs).
Coach Jones is dutifully impressed by the Hawks' high-scoring passing game.
"They've got three really good receivers that are really tough," he said. "They'll throw it around quite a bit. They've got a heck of an aerial attack, but they've still got a good ground attack, too.
"They're big, physical and have got some good athletes. So we've got to come out and play with a great attitude, great confidence. If we can do that, I think we'll be right there in the thick of it.
"I just hope our dudes are better than their dudes," Jones said.
And if they are, well, then all that stuff regarding revenge and redemption really won't matter.
Alta statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 34.8 ppg
Scoring defense: 20.0 ppg
Passing leader: Chipper Lucero (198-319, 62.1%, 3,106 yards, 34 TDs, 12 INTs)
Rushing leaders: Max Broman (67 carries, 384 yards, 2 TDs)
Sack leaders: Brock Davies (5.5)
Interception leaders: Bridger Pennington (3)
Syracuse statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 33.3 ppg
Scoring defense: 7.0 ppg
Passing leader: Brock Anderson (128-183, 69.9%, 1,712 yards, 24 TDs, 2 INTs)
Rushing leaders: Mason Woodward (147 carries, 674 yards, 7 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Kiwa Mo’o (26 rec., 417 yards, 6 TDs), Diante Mitchell (32 rec., 385 yards, 6 TDs)
Sack leaders: Jace Purser (8.5), Cardon Malon (7)
Interception leaders: Diante Mitchell (4)
Felt’s Facts for Alta High School
All-time record: 243-137 (35 years)
Region championships: 11 (1984 co, 1985 co, 1988 co, 2000 co, 2003, 2005 co, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 co, 2011)
Playoff appearances: 27 (including 2012)
All-time playoff record: 42-22
State championships: 4 (1983, 1988, 2007, 2008)
State championship record: 4-2
Felt’s Factoid(s): Alta has scored in a school-record 123 straight games stretching back to 2002.
Felt’s Facts for Syracuse High School
All-time record: 42-23 (6 years)
Region championships: 1 (2012)
Playoff appearances: 5 (Including 2012)
All-time playoff record: 6-4
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0-0
Felt’s Factoid(s): Syracuse is one of just 11 schools to have a perfect playoff record on its home field (2-0).