Ben Brewer, Deseret News
GARLAND — It's not often that you see a one-win high school football team participating in the state playoffs.
But that's precisely the case Friday evening when Hurricane (1-9) makes the long trip north to tangle with Bear River (7-3) in a first-round matchup of this year's 3AA tournament.
Hurricane's only win this season came against Payson, which also wound up 1-9 overall and is the lone team from the 3AA South region which did not qualify for postseason play.
But before anyone totally disregards Hurricane's worthiness to participate in the state playoffs with just one win all yearlong, perhaps it's worthwhile to note that of the eight Utah schools who beat the Tigers this season, seven of them are indeed playing in the postseason.
Among those teams which beat Hurricane are strong playoff squads like Logan (10-0), Dixie (8-2), Pine View (7-2), Desert Hills (7-2), Stansbury (7-3) and Snow Canyon (6-3), along with Skyline and Cedar, which both went 4-6. Skyline is the only member of that group which didn't reach postseason play.
Hurricane's strong schedule this season certainly hasn't been lost on Bear River coach Chris Wise.
"We chuckle and I know it sounds funny but, no kidding, they're a dang good 1-9 team," he said. "I look at that record and I'm sure other people look at that record and say, 'Well, how good can they really be?' But most of those losses were to some pretty darned good teams. Sure, Skyline's down this year, but they're still a 5A team, and that region down there's a really good region.
"We're definitely not taking them lightly in any way, shape or form," Wise said. "That's what's scary is that if people see that record and if we don't win on Friday, I'm gonna get fired."
Keep in mind, too, that this is a Hurricane team that's just two years removed from sweeping the 3A state championship with a spotless 13-0 record. Last year, the Tigers went 9-2 and reached the playoffs, and they won or shared five straight region titles from 2008-12, so this is a proud program that's accustomed to winning.
And coach Wise certainly isn't looking past the Tigers — not for one single second.
"They run that wing-T offense and they're so quick at it that if you don't practice that and simulate that speed, they're gonna burn you," the Bears' coach said. "On defense, they've got two real good linebackers, and they're gamers.
"Hopefully we can put some points on the board. We need to try and really possess the ball offensively and score fast and get the ball back as fast as possible. Our linebackers are really good, too, and we're going to rely on them heavily. The key is our defense against that wing-T offense of theirs."
Hurricane is paced offensively by the one-two rushing punch of Jeremiah Ieremia and JD Stansworth, who have combined for more than 700 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
The Tigers' defense relies heavily on Charlie Sefita, Adlai Elison, Matt Olsen and Noah Elison. Hurricane has had a tough time stopping opponents this season, though, giving up an average of more than 31 points per game.
And they'll be severely tested by a potent Bear River offense which ranks second in the 3AA ranks, piling up more than 38 points per game.
Quarterback Jardee Nessen leads the Bears' attack, as he has thrown for 2,486 yards and 23 touchdowns. Jeremie Selman spearheads the B.R. ground game, rushing for more than 722 yards and 10 TDs, while their top receiving threat is Colton Jensen with 46 catches for more than 1,000 yards and six scores.
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