Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The pressure of being ranked No. 1 might feel like a burden to some teams.
But for the Judge Memorial Bulldogs, it’s just one of the benefits of enjoying a great season.
“These guys have not had a very successful program,” said Judge head coach James Cordova of his seniors, who’ve lost in the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons. “I don’t think they feel big pressure. They’re excited to be playing good football.”
This year’s team is laid back and easy-going, unless you introduce any kind of competition.
“I could throw out a basketball, and they’ll play,” he said. “They just love to compete. They’re really great kids. They love to get out there and mix it up. They would play anything — bocce ball — and they’d laugh, joke, tease and taunt. They’re very brotherly.”
That means they give each other a hard time, but they have one another’s backs when it matters most.
That chemistry, along with some impressive talent, has the Bulldogs on top in the 3A ranks.
After a rough start against Pine View and 4A’s Woods Cross, Judge hasn’t lost a game since. The Bulldogs' most impressive wins came against third-ranked Manti and second-ranked Morgan.
They’re led by quarterback Kaden Elliss and a stable of impressive running backs. Elliss leads the team in rushing yards, as well as passing, while Max Barnett, Mark Barnett, Henry Garcia and Michael Kearns are all capable backs with impressive stats.
Cordova said the Bulldogs have been impressed with what they’ve seen of North Sanpete on film.
“They struggled a lot of the year, and then their last ride against Delta they were impressive,” Cordova said. “They’ve got some nice kids. They were able to put together two nice drives at the end of that game.”
He was especially impressed with quarterback Brady Wheeler and running back Spencer Applegarth.
Hawks head coach Matt Roberts said the team may only have three wins this season, but its last two really gave the young squad a lot of confidence.
“We believe we can win,” Roberts said. “All the pressure is on Judge. We shouldn’t even be here. That’s a great thing.”
He knows the Hawks have their work cut out for them, but Roberts said they’re grateful for the opportunity.
“On film, they’re tough,” he said of Judge. “They’ve got no weaknesses. They’re a good football team.”
Roberts said that in the recent past the Hawks have peaked during the regular season and then fallen flat in the playoffs.
“One thing about this team, they’ve gotten better every week,” Roberts said. “At Delta is the first time we’d played four quarters of complete football. We’re a good team. I think a lot of people were a little shocked.”
Roberts hopes that surprise factor will play in the Hawks’ favor as they enter the playoffs as underdogs.
“Brady Wheeler is my only returning starter,” he said. “This is his third year starting, and we’re putting a lot on his shoulders.”
But as he told his players, rankings and records don’t matter at this point. Only the scoreboard does.
“And right now, it’s zero-zero,” Roberts said.
North Sanpete statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 15.8 ppg (10th in 3A)
Scoring defense: 31.4 ppg (10th in 3A)
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