Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
CEDAR CITY — When Morgan and Manti square off Saturday in the 3A state football semifinals, they may very well look like mirror images of each other.
Both teams are 9-2 thus far this season, both teams like to run the heck out of the football, both teams boast high-scoring offensive attacks, and even their school names and mascots — Morgan Trojans, Manti Templars — start with the same letters of the alphabet and have a similar rhythm and phonetic symmetry about them.
Thus, Saturday's semifinal showdown at Southern Utah University shapes up as a dandy of a duel between two very comparable opponents.
And both coaches displayed mutual respect for each other's program.
"We're gonna have to play good to win," Morgan coach Kovi Christiansen said. "They’re a real solid team, very well-coached, and have a lot of similar types of players as we do. We need to take care of the ball, play disciplined defense and play well.
“They have a solid defense, and they're as good as any team we’ve played so far this year. They have great running backs, their misdirection is hard to attack, and it's hard to find out who has the ball. They've got big running backs and fast running backs, with a good balance of power and speed.
“Their quarterback throws a really good ball, too," the Trojans' coach said. "As soon as you start getting comfortable on defense and start loading up the box and try to stop the run, they’ll run some kind of bootleg pass play and burn you. They've got some good receivers and are just a real solid, well-rounded team."
Indeed, with a rushing attack fueled by Kamren Fowles, who has 155 carries for more than 1,200 yards and 19 touchdowns, it's easy to see why the Templars have averaged more than 33 points per game this season — the No. 4-ranked scoring offense in 3A football this year.
Throw in quarterback Connor Aste's 1,090 yards passing and 13 touchdowns, plus the running and receiving efforts of Jared Schiess — 53 carries for 388 yards and seven touchdowns, with 20 catches for 353 yards and six more scores — and the Templars are a mighty formidable foe.
The Templars will need every ounce of defensive energy they can muster on Saturday because Morgan has a mighty high-powered offense of its own.
The Trojans have averaged more than 35 points per game this season, giving them the second-highest scoring offense in the 3A ranks. Perhaps even more impressive, Morgan's defense has given up just 10.2 ppg this season — the No. 1-ranked scoring defense in all of 3A football this year.
Leading the way for the Trojans are quarterback Ben Saunders, who has thrown for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns, and the running back tandem of Kade Carrigan and Matt Murdock. Carrigan has 134 carries for 933 yards and 17 touchdowns, and Murdock has 100 carries for 679 yards and 10 more touchdowns.
Carrigan and Murdock are also Morgan's leading receivers. Carrigan has 20 catches for 429 yards and five touchdowns, and Murdock has 15 receptions for 237 yards and four more scores.
Needless to say, Manti head coach Cole Meacham is well aware of the two teams' similarities and expects Saturday's game to be a dogfight.