High school football: Bounce-back season expected from San Juan in 2A South

Published: Sunday, Aug. 3 2014 9:45 p.m. MDT

Every football program aspires to winning championships, but in Blanding it’s become an expectation. That’s why last season was such a disappointment.

The players and coaches knew their ultimate goal wasn’t realistic.

From 2008 to 2012, San Juan’s football team only lost four total games — twice in the semifinals and once in the state championship. Last year, however, the Broncos lost five games and bowed out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.

It also marked the end of five straight region championships, but don’t expect the drought to last long. In the Deseret News preseason coaches poll San Juan was pegged as the 2A South favorite, followed by last year’s champ, Beaver.

“I think the region will be as competitive as it was last year, with San Juan being a lot better,” said Beaver coach Steve Hutchings.

San Juan isn’t the only team that could take a step forward. Enterprise, South Sevier, Parowan and North Sevier all return a bunch of starters as they look to challenge some of the upper-echelon teams in the region.

Beaver and Grand, meanwhile, both enter the season with plenty of uncertainty after graduating numerous key contributors from last year’s semifinal and runner-up teams, respectively.

“We’ll be real young. If we started three seniors I’d be surprised. We’ll be very young this year,” said Hutchings. “I still think we’ll compete in our region for sure. Now if we go up against the top guys in 2A, we’ll see.”

That’s not a unique uncertainty to just Beaver either. Southern schools San Juan, Beaver and Grand all lost to eventual 2A state champ South Summit in consecutive weeks in last year’s playoffs.

San Juan coach Monty Lee is optimistic that the return of a healthy Bronz Eldredge can shift the balance of power in 2A back South. Eldredge went down with a dislocated shoulder in Week 2 last year and San Juan’s hopes vanished without him.

“In 2A, you don’t have the luxury of two or three deep in a spot. In 2A, if you lose a horse like Bronz, that can be devastating,” said Lee, who’s entering his 12th season as head coach. “We’ve lost kids before and we’ve been able to pick up the pieces, but last year was one of those nails that is driven into the coffin. We never recovered.”

With Eldredge back at linebacker, San Juan hopes to replicate some of its dominant defenses from a few years back.

During San Juan’s perfect 12-0 season in 2010, the Broncos only allowed 3.3 ppg. Even though it came short of its ultimate goal in 2011 and 2012, the defense still dominated, only allowing 8.3 ppg and 5.9 ppg, respectively.

Last year that scoring defense ballooned to 18.7 ppg.

South Sevier could be the sleeper team in 2A South this season. It beat Millard in the first round last year and then gave Grand a big scare in the quarterfinals, losing 27-20.

With seven offensive starters and six defensive starters back, coach Weston Zabriskie is beaming with confidence.

“Team found identity toward end of last year and expectations and excitement has grown into offseason workouts. If we can find the right combination of linemen to go with skill players we should have a very good year,” said Zabriskie.

There’s similar optimism in Parowan under third-year coach Brigham Nielson. The Rams went 1-8 in Nielsen’s first season but improved to 6-5 last season. There’s no shortage of optimism in 2014.