Following the Salem Hills practice last Thursday night in preparation for the season opener against 5A Hillcrest, a full moon slowly lifted over the silhouetted peaks of Mt. Loafer. A song by Creedence Clearwater Revival came to mind as I could clearly sense a "Bad Moon Rising". There was a feeling of trouble on the way. As region 8 prepares to engage in fierce rivalries between Maple Mountain, Salem Hills, Spanish Fork and Springville expect to see hurricanes and lightnin' along with the voice of rage and ruin. Throw Payson in the mix and you have a perfect storm for intense, emotional, hard hitting, high school football.
On paper the Skyhawks and Lions share a lot of similarities. For the first time in school history both teams will meet on the gridiron boasting undefeated records. Both teams are coming off big upset victories over larger division foes. Both teams have displayed a high octane offense combining for over 1000 yards of total offense and nearly 100 points in their season openers. Both teams come in with a chip on their shoulder with something to prove. With the overall series record tied and an average margin of victory less than 10 points both teams expect a hard fought battle until the last whistle.
The Payson Lions rolled into Provo last week as underdogs and spoiled the Bulldogs opener in their brand new state of the art facility. En route to an upset victory, the Lions put up 38 points and 447 total yards of offense. Payson was led by Kyle Moffat who on 15 carries rushed for 183 yards and 3 touchdowns. Moffat also came up big defensively for the Lions with an interception and proved to be a solid all around athlete and competitor. The offense was orchestrated by quarter back Easton Smith who completed 13 passes on 23 attempts for 187 yards and 1 touchdown.
John Harmon led a group of hardnosed defenders with the team high 11 tackles. Dalton Baker also had a solid performance with 7 tackles and 1 interception. Expect the Lions to come out roaring offensively and motivated for another epic defensive battle.
Salem Hills has seen the winds of change. Joel Higginson enters his second season as the Skyhawks head coach. Joel was a multisport standout athlete at Spanish Fork High School and remembers the longstanding rivalries well.
"There are football games and then there are rivalry games. This is definitely a rivalry game. Anytime you have a cross town rival such as Salem and Payson you can expect a hard fought game where both teams will give everything they have. This match up will be intense for both teams," Higginson said.
When asked about his senior year against Payson he could recall nearly every play in the victory over Payson during the harsh winter conditions with nearly a foot of snow on the field.
In week one, the Skyhawks soared to a convincing victory as they dominated both sides of the ball. The Skyhawks accumulated over 570 yards of total offense and held Hillcrest to only one rushing TD. The lethal offense was led by brothers and recent move-ins from Idaho, Porter and Gunnar Gustin who hooked up for two of the five touchdown passes. Porter completed 18 passes on 27 attempts for 340 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Porter, the 6"4' 214 pound junior who also doubles as outside linebacker started the game by sacking Hillcrest QB Tanner Thompson for a 5 yard loss setting the tempo on defense. Walker Van-Tassell led the Skyhawks defense with 12 tackles including one for a loss. Scott Lyman later came up big with a huge interception to end a promising Hillcrest drive. A trio of talented receivers Zack Zobell, Ammon Fafita and (Gunnar) Gustin combined for over 300 yards receiving on 16 receptions.
Although the Gustin brothers are new to Utah County, they can sense the strong rivalry that exists between the neighboring communities and are continually reminded of it by family and friends. Their grandfather Gary Gustin who graduated from Spanish Fork High School in 1964 and later went on to play football at Utah State, knows the rivalry all too well.
"If we lost every game of the season, but managed to beat Payson....it was considered a success!" Gary Gustin said. When asked what he remembered of the game his senior year, he sadly recalled that they had lost the game by a matter of mere inches. Something he laments still today.
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Expect to see sparks fly when both teams collide on Friday night under the lights. If you don't get your fill of fireworks on the field during the game, stick around as Payson City plans to celebrate Onion Days with fire in the sky. One thing is for certain, as time expires on the clock Friday night and the final score is recorded in the history books, the seniors on both sides of the field will remember this game for the rest of their life!
Scott Higginson is a Vice President of Sales and Communications at Agel Enterprises., a multi-level marketing company based out of Lehi, UT. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org