We’ve got to develop some young kids. Through the preseason some kids are going to have to grow up, but we feel pretty good. —Manti head football coach Cole Meacham
A year later, Oct. 11 still resonates with the Juab football program.
That’s the night Manti made a mockery of Juab’s run defense, the night Juab lost the region title, and the night that forced Juab’s coaching staff to reassess some aspects of the program.
Manti rushed for 609 yards in the region-clinching 41-33 victory over Juab, with senior Kamren Fowles going off for 411 yards. From a team and individual standpoint, they’re the fourth-best marks in state history.
A month after Manti ran circles around Juab, eventual state champion Judge did the same thing in a 41-20 semifinal victory.
“There’s some things we’ve changed up this year just because when we looked at what we were doing and what we wanted for the result — and it’s probably my fault — I’m not sure we were doing enough to get to that level that we need to,” said Juab coach Mike Bowring.
“When you play a team like Judge and some of those teams that are big, physical, fast, you’ve got to get stronger, faster and bigger. So we’re trying to focus on those things we can control and try and put these kids in a better situation.”
The Wasps have never won a state championship, but last year’s first semifinal appearance since 2008 gave them a glimpse of what it might take to get there.
If it’s ever going to happen, this might be the year. Quarterback Nick Robins, an SUU commit, is poised for a huge season with four returning offensive linemen in front of him.
Looking back on that defining October loss last year, Robins actually had a fantastic night for the Wasps throwing for 339 yards and five touchdowns. That could be the norm from Robins this year, and if Juab’s retooled defense rises to the challenge, it could dethrone Manti for the 3A South region title.
Manti coach Cole Meacham doesn’t discount the consensus either.
“I think Juab is going to be pretty good. I think it’s going to be pretty tight after Juab, but I think Juab is definitely the team to beat,” he said.
With most of the preseason attention in 3A South being directed at Juab, last year’s state runner-up Manti is quietly going about its business. It has won region titles in four of the past five years, and despite few returning starters, don’t expect much of a drop-off.
“We’ve got to develop some young kids. Through the preseason some kids are going to have to grow up, but we feel pretty good,” said Meacham.
While most agree Juab and Manti are the front-runners in 3A South, after that it’s a shrug of the shoulders. The other two teams who qualified for the playoffs last season — North Sanpete and Richfield — both have new head coaches in 2014 and with them comes uncertainty.
As for Delta and Canyon View, this is the second year with their current head coaches and both expect to be much more competitive.
Delta is particularly hungry after missing the playoffs for the first time since 1974.
“That left a sour taste in our mouth and I think we’re all ready to come back and show them what we can do,” said Delta quarterback Bracken Lovell.
THURSDAY: 3A North Preview
Deseret News projections for 3A South football teams in 2014
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches’ votes)
1. JUAB: Returning all-state QB Nick Robins has four returning starters on the offensive line protecting him — Nick Wohlforth, Jake Hatfield, Ethan Phillips and Brandon Aagard. Brandon Smith takes over at fullback and has big shoes to fill after Dalton Harmon’s big 2013 season. The receiving corps is solid with slot backs Dedric Davidson and Kayden Whiting returning, but discovering productive wideouts has been a focus this summer. Defensively, the entire offseason has been spent on getting tougher against the run. The return of a healthy Whiting at linebacker will definitely help the run defense, while newcomers Tyse Ostler and Talon Jennings have impressed this summer. 2013 RECORD: 8-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Judge 41-20 in semifinals.
2. MANTI: Everything Manti does offensively is predicated on running the ball, and it could be more explosive this year with athletic QB Derek Wright and speedy running back Bradly Sego. They’ll be running behind a somewhat experienced offensive line anchored by returning starters Keltn Pritchard and Kayden Gentry. Ben Tiatia will slide into one of the guard positions after playing part time last year. Defensively, Jordan Howe’s emergence at linebacker last season when an injury occurred could pay big dividends this year. It allows Sego to shift to his more natural safety position. If what should be a strong defensive line takes care of business, the Templars should be in the thick of 3A again. 2013 RECORD: 10-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Judge 36-22 in championship.
3. DELTA: After its 38-year playoff streak came to an end last year, it’s back to the drawing board for Delta. Bracken Lovell and Victor Almanza were both state champion wrestlers last season, a winning mentality they need to bring to the gridiron. Lovell is a returning starter at QB, but improvements need to be made in both the passing game and running game. He only rushed for 75 yards in the wishbone offense, while in the passing game he completed a respectable 880 yards, but just two touchdowns to four interceptions. Almanza was an all-state defensive back last year, but he’s shifting to linebacker and running back this year and he needs to have a huge season for Delta to work its way back in the playoffs. 2013 RECORD: 4-6. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.
4. NORTH SANPETE: After Carbon, North Sanpete was the second-lowest scoring team in 3A last year at just 14.3 ppg. New coach Rick Wilson believes the lack of identity was a big reason why. This year the offense will lean on the experience of four-year starting quarterback Brady Wheeler to increase that efficiency. Dylan Olson and Zack Lee will benefit from that efficiency at receiver, while RB Spencer Applegarth will be counted on to add necessary run support. Defensively, linebackers Tallon Wanlass and Layne Cook finished first and second on the team in tackles a year ago, and they’re solid players for Wilson’s new defense to lean on. 2013 RECORD: 3-8. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Judge 35-0 in quarterfinals.
5. RICHFIELD: Despite few returning starters on both sides of the ball, new coach Erik Thorson is optimistic about the upcoming season. There are definitely question marks, though. With a relatively new quarterback in Brandon Willardson and mostly new skill positions players, Richfield’s offensive line will be counted on heavily with returning starters Nathan Woolsey and Mike Torgerson. Defensively there’s plenty of room for improvement. Richfield allowed 36, 27, 20 and 32 points in its four losses down the stretch last year. The Wildcats will lean heavily on returning starting linebackers Torgerson and Ryder Rippstein to improve that productivity this year. 2013 RECORD: 7-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost to Morgan 32-13 in quarterfinals.
6. CANYON VIEW: The 2013 season was always going to be a rebuilding one as new coach Robby Robinson implemented his new offense and defense. It struggled early in the year, but in the last four games Canyon View was respectable. With nine returning starters on both sides of the ball, the Falcons can’t simply be disregarded in 2014. Offensively, big things are expected of junior QB Michael Musto, while running backs Braxton Higgins and Tevan Vasi should have strong years. The defense will be anchored by linebacker Austin Evans and defensive tackle Keith Clark. 2013 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.