Note: Tooele finished with a 3-7 overall record in 2013 and was fifth in 3AA North with a 2-4 record. It lost to Snow Canyon 38-9 in the 3AA first round.
TOOELE — The goal is a home playoff game. Fourth-year coach Kyle Brady isn’t afraid to admit it.
Since he took over in 2011, the program has gone from zero to one to three victories. In the revamped 3AA classification, two region wins last year was good enough to earn the program its first playoff appearance since 2006.
That postseason stay ended quickly for the 3AA North fifth seed with a 38-9 loss at Snow Canyon.
This year the goal is to finish fourth or better in 3AA North and secure a home playoff game, something the Buffaloes weren’t far off from last year. Park City earned the No. 4 seed with a 24-21 victory over Tooele, a game that could’ve gone either way.
A turnover proved very critical in that game, something Brady still recalls vividly. Already leading in the second half, Tooele was in perfect position to pad its lead but instead fumbled the ball into the end zone for a touchback.
Tooele also lost a close game to rival Stansbury 21-13, but those two near misses represented much-needed progress for the program.
“One thing we were really happy about last year, yeah we only won three games, but at least we were competing in games,” said Brady. “Now we have to turn close games into wins. Make those extra plays we need to win the game instead of just be in the game. I feel we have a team we can do that with this year.”
Tooele returns a bunch of starters on both sides of the ball, most notably on the offensive and defensive lines. Brady believes that continuity in the trenches gives his team an opportunity to compete with everybody in the state.
From there, Brady says the little things make all the difference. Last season Tooele routinely made mental mistakes like personal foul penalties, jumping offsides, and turning the ball over with careless ball security. The coaching staff is committed to cleaning that up this season along with one other glaring problem from 2013 — tackling.
“A lot of times the first player would make contact, but we didn’t have enough guys there. He’d miss the tackle and they’d gain, 5, 6 extra yards, and that really, really hurt us. A big emphasis this year is tackling and make sure they don’t make those extra yards after contact,” said Brady.
With seven returning starters on defense, Brady is confident the extra year of experience will make all the difference.
The heart of the defense is Maka Kioa. The senior defensive lineman was second on the team in tackles a year ago and he’s very difficult to block.
“He’s a beast. He has a high motor, he’s going to be tough to stop,” said Brady.
Tooele allowed 30.6 ppg last year, but with a strong defensive line returning Brady said the goal is to get that number down around 21 ppg. It would help if safety Jon Ficken wasn’t forced to lead the team in tackles again this season.
On the other side of the ball, Tooele’s offensive line has high expectations as well. Zach Langi, TaeJohn Koffell and Tyler Daley are all returning starters, while Ross is a returning starter at tight end and Jayden Caires was a part-time starter.
That group helped Adam Pace run for 990 yards last season, but Ryan Brady takes over that fullback role after rushing for 425 yards a year ago.