Note: Mountain Crest finished with an 11-3 overall record in 2012 and went 5-0 to win the Region 5 title. The Mustangs lost to Timpview 38-31 in double-overtime in the 4A state championship game.
HYRUM — Over the last nine months, Mark Wootton has probably replayed the final few frantic, intense moments of last year's 4A state championship game a million times in his mind.
The Mountain Crest head football coach saw his team drop a heartbreaking double-overtime decision to Timpview in the 2012 4A finale, the second time in three years that the Mustangs suffered a double-OT defeat in the state title game.
"If there's such a thing as football gods, they don't like me very much to do that twice," he said of his team's devastating championship-game defeats in 2010 and 2012. "I must've done something to make ’em mad at me. We've got to learn how to finish it."
He realizes those painfully frustrating replays that keep running through his mind are a foolish waste of time and something that, like those two losses, are in the past and should stay there from now on.
"More than I'd like," Wootton said when asked how many times he's thought about last November's 38-31 loss to Timpview at Rice-Eccles Stadium, "but there's nothing I can do about it now. You don't change the outcome by feeling sorry for yourself, thinking if we'd have done this or that, had we scored one more touchdown and stopped them again. But we didn't, so we have to move on.
"We had some studs on that team, and we lost some studs off that team," he said of last year's graduating class. "Every one of those kids truly thought they were the best player on the field — they thought they were, and that's half the battle. It doesn't mean they are, but in their minds, that's how they played. They didn't play scared or unsure of themselves. You'd never know we were quite undersized and some people underestimated those kids.
"Now you just kinda hope that the tradition here keeps our kids playing at a high level. Our expectations for the kids is real high, we're pushing them very hard, and we coach our kids up to win.
"When you lose great players and have to fill a lot of spots, you just hope that when kids get that opportunity they can play real hard and get after it," said Wootton, whose teams have advanced at least as far as the semifinals of the 4A state playoffs in five of the last six seasons and have won or shared the region title in five of the last six seasons as well.
This year, senior Luke Smith, who Wootton says is "pretty fast and pretty athletic," is battling for the starting quarterback job with sophomore Tanner Schwab, who could wind up earning the starting job.
"He's not very big," Wootton said of Schwab, "but he's very intelligent and he throws pretty well and is very, very competitive."
At running back, the Mustangs will rely on experienced senior Gaje Fergusen along with senior Jordan Wengreen, senior Josh Jacker, who's a move-in from Michigan, and veteran Nick Taylor, a three-year starter on defense who also shines at fullback.
Their top pass-receiving threats will be Smith, their top returning receiver from next year who will be catching a lot of balls if he's not the one throwing them from the QB position; senior Nick Watterson, and senior tight end Kaden Neimann, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound target.
The offensive line is anchored by senior tackle Kyle Christiansen, a 3-year starter who stands 6-foot-4, weighs in at 315 pounds, is very athletic for his size and has committed to play at the University of Utah. He'll be joined on the O-line by rugged senior tackle Justin Tolbert, who goes around 230 pounds; good-sized senior guards Jake Swanton (270) and Viliami Taukiuvea (260), and either senior Kaden Hardman or junior Levi Law at center.
Christiansen and Taylor head up the defensive line, and Taylor can also play linebacker, where Fergusen, Wengreen, Jacker and senior Mason Kendrick will also lead the way. Smith, Watterson and senior Kaden Feldt will spearhead the secondary.
Wootton says this year's team is the youngest he's ever had, with a small junior class of contributors and several promising sophomores who could see plenty of playing time and make for a bright future in the program.
A tough preseason schedule featuring Highland, American Fork and Region 1 favorite Syracuse should help Mountain Crest prepare for the Region 5 campaign, and the 'Stangs will face a strong East High squad in another non-league game later in the season.
As to the region race, the Mustangs' coach sees it as being wide-open, with Box Elder being tabbed as the team to beat in his opinion.
"There are five or six teams that can win it," Wootton said. "There's not any clear-cut favorite. There could be a few teams that are really happy at the end and a lot that are really disappointed. It's just that close, and it could be a little disappointing because I think everybody will play everybody else tough."
The Mustangs, though, don't intend to be disappointed in the end. After all, they got enough of that last November.
Mountain Crest Mustangs at a glance
Coach: Mark Wootton begins his 10th season as Mountain Crest's head coach, compiling a 76-32 record there thus far with a state championship in 2005 and second-place finishes in the 4A playoffs in 2010 and 2012, losing the championship game in double-overtime both times. He is 149-88 overall in 23 years as a high school head coach.
(4 returning starters; multiple sets with misdirection)
Senior running back Gaje Fergusen and senior fullback Nick Taylor give the Mustangs a solid one-two punch in the backfield, where sophomore Tanner Schwab and senior Luke Smith are vying for the starting quarterback job. If Smith loses that bid, he'll head up the receiver corps, which also includes senior Nick Watterson and senior tight end Kaden Neimann. Big senior tackle Kyle Christiansen (6-4, 315), a three-year starter, heads up the O-line, where he'll be joined by senior tackle Justin Tolbert and a pair of good-sized senior guards in Jake Swanton (270) and Viliami Taukiuvea (260). With this group, moving the ball and putting points on the board should not be a problem at all again this season for a team that averaged more than 40 points per game last year.
(4 returning starters; 4-3-4 scheme)
Kyle Christiansen and Nick Taylor will anchor the D-line, and Taylor can also play linebacker along with seniors Gaje Fergusen, Jordan Wengreen, Josh Jacker and Mason Kendrick. Seniors Luke Smith, Nick Watterson and Kaden Feldt will lead the secondary for a defensive squad that held 10 opponents to 14 or fewer points last season.
Coaches' preseason Region 5 straw poll: First
Deseret News Region 5 prediction: First
Bottom line: Even though the Mustangs lost a ton of talented performers off last year's team that played for the 4A title, it should be no surprise that they're favored to win this year's league championship. After all, they've won or shared the league title in five of the last six years, and they've advanced at least as far as the state semifinals five times in the last six years as well. This vaunted Cache Valley program keeps putting a title contender on the field every year, it seems, and this year should definitely be no different. The Mustangs' Oct. 16 showdown with Box Elder in Brigham City could very well determine this year's league champion.
Mountain Crest coaching history
2004-current — Mark Wootton (75-33)
2001-03 — Art Erickson (19-16)
1988-2000 — Dan Cox (85-39)
1986-87 — Jack Robinson (16-8)
1983-85 — George Bayles (3-23)
Deseret News Mr. Football recipients
2010 — Alex Kuresa, QB
Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years
2005 — Brady Wootton, RB
2002 — Ryan Zimmerman, QB
Deseret News First Team All-Staters the past 10 years
2012 — Eddy Hall, RB
2012 — Faimafili Laulu-Pututau, WR
2012 — Kyle Christansen, OL
2012 — Gaje Ferguson, LB
2010 — Troy Pickett, WR
2010 — Fernando Huerta, OL
2010 — Tanner Richardson, LB
2010 — Schofield Smith, DB
2010 — Nate Rigby, SP
2009 — Alex Kuresa, QB
2009 — Alex Knowles, RB
2009 — Tyler Weese, WR
2009 — Matt Stewart, TE
2008 — Colton Reeder, OL
2008 — Ethen Lofthouse, LB
2008 — Ethan Rasmussen, DB
2007 — Nick Salvesen, DL
2005 — Brady Zimmerman, QB
2005 — Cameron Webb, WR
2005 — Nick Salvesen, DL
2005 — Phillip Rutledge, LB
2003 — Mark Watterson, WR
2003 — Luke Lofthouse, LB
To view second team and honorable mention All-Staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.