Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
TAYLORSVILLE — Hosting Alta hardly seems like a reward for earning the first region title in school history.
But in a season of milestones, Taylorsville head coach Rod Wells said the school — and the community — are excited for their first postseason opportunity in many years.
"We're just excited," Wells said. "We've got to shore some things up, but we'll be ready to play." Those things have something to do with the usual aches, pains and injuries that always accompany a football season. But they also have to do with losing the final game of region play.
Wells hoped his team would earn the school's first region trophy without a single loss in league play. But last Friday night, the celebration became a little bittersweet when the Warriors lost to West. Now, the second-year head coach is hoping his players will use their recent disappointment to their advantage in their playoff appearance.
"I think we thought we were better than we were," Wells said of the confidence that came with four straight wins. "We can just show up and play. West smacked us in the mouth, and we didn't know how to respond. But I really do think it will be a positive thing." For one thing, the players have had a lot of smaller goals to reach their game with one of 5A's perennial powers this weekend. "All of our kids are excited," Wells said. "Every goal is a stepping stone. Alta is a great football program, not just a great team. Of course their history plays a part." If the Warriors can avoid being "awe-struck," Wells believes they can compete with the Hawks. The Warriors lost a couple of key players, but they will be back this weekend, including Leroy Ripley, a key defender.
The Warriors will have to find an answer for senior quarterback Chipper Lucero, who's led the Hawks statistically and emotionally all season. Lucero and the team's other captains have held the squad together during tough moments.
"Our leadership has been really good this year," Alta head coach Bob Stephens said. "We've had some disappointments and they've helped us come through and be able to refocus and get ready for the next week. They've been great."
Like Taylorsville, Alta has some injuries to deal with, but it sees the return of an experienced linebacker who broke his leg earlier this year — Paul Geilman.
"If we get him back and hitting, he will really help us going through the playoffs," said Stephens.
In fact, being healthy during the postseason is so important, Stephens rested some of his defensive linemen during the Bingham game.
"Just to make sure they're ready for the playoffs," Stephens said. "I think we're pretty healthy, and that's a key in the playoffs."
Stephens said the Hawks aren't worried about brackets or seeding — or starting the playoffs on the road.
"We're just going to approach this one game at a time," he said. "Right now we have Taylorsville. We're going to practice and be ready for them."
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Alta statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 35.4 ppg (5th in 5A)
Scoring defense: 27.2 ppg (18th in 5A)
Passing leader: Chipper Lucero (145-257, 56.4%, 2,116 yards, 26 TDs)
Rushing leaders: Tanner Sansom (102 carries, 761 yards, 11 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Mack Richards (58 catches, 1,025 yards, 12 TDs), Nate Teahan (44 catches, 600 yards, 9 TDs)