Note: Rich finished with a 9-3 overall record in 2013 and was second in 1A North with a 2-1 record. It lost to Duchesne 14-13 in the 1A championship.

It still eats at them, even if they haven’t spoken much about it.

Down by seven to Duchesne in the 1A state championship game last fall, the Rich Rebels entered the end zone with 2:23 remaining to pull within one. Next came the decision Rich coach Ashley Brown has thought a lot about over the last eight months.

With field conditions somewhat sloppy on that November day, Brown elected to try a two-point conversion instead of a PAT. The Rebels came up short and the Eagles captured their fourth-straight state title, all against Rich.

“It’s hard because you get that close and you have a good chance, one play,” Brown said. “You always look back and you think, ‘Should we have done this? Should we have done that?’ But that’s part of sports.”

Instead of discussing it over the past few months, Brown said his players have let the experience help drive them as they prepare for a title run in 2014.

“Our kids were way disappointed. We had our chance to be state champs and we didn’t get it done on one play. I think our kids were way disappointed and they looked at it like, ‘We gotta get in the weight room, we’ve gotta work harder,’” Brown said. “They’ve done a good job this summer in our weight room and getting themselves ready as far as strength and hopefully keeping themselves healthy.”

Most of the Rebels’ core is back, including running back Cache Sabey, who led the team with 899 rushing yards a season ago. He’ll be joined in the backfield by Joseph Leifson, who racked up 452 yards of his own in 2013.

The Sabey-Leifson combo is one Brown is excited for, as he feels each brings something different to the table.

“With Cache running straight ahead and Joseph being more shifty and being able to make guys miss on the tackle, it’s a good combination to have,” he said.

As productive as the Rich running backs will look to be, its wide receiving corps should be pretty solid as well. Last year’s leading wideout, Jayden Wallentine, is back, as is Wyatt Muirbrook, the leader in 2012 who missed last season with injury.

The wealth of experience for the Rebels on offense continues in the trenches, as Ryley Smith and Porter Argyle should hold things down effectively.

The one big change on offense for Rich: Gone is quarterback McKay Jarman, who passed for 504 yards in 2013 but did more damage on the ground with 875 yards.

Ready to replace him is Koy Brown, Ashley Brown’s son. The elder Brown feels that not only is his son ready to take the reins, but he’s anticipating a more effective passing game in 2014 than what the Rebels produced a year ago.

“I think he’ll do a good job,” Ashley Brown said. “Hopefully we can be a little more balanced this year and throw the ball a little more than we did last year. That’s our hope going into the season. He’s got some good receivers and he should have a pretty good line in front of him, so that’s what we’re thinking going into the season.”

Like on offense, Rich be experienced at key positions defensively. Sabey and Mitch Jarman will lead at linebacker, while Wallentine, Leifson and Brown will all be back in the secondary for a team that gave up fewer than 17 points per game a year ago.

The one question mark on defense will be the line. With multiple graduates in 2013, Brown will be looking to a group of five or six players to compete for jobs to fill the void.

“We think we’ve got kids that can do it,” Brown said. “We’ve just gotta see who steps up and who’s the best at it.”

Brown’s ultimate hope is that all the pieces can come together for his team to finally be able to take the title trophy away from Duchesne.

“We feel like this year we have a good shot at it,” he said. “It’s not gonna be easy. There’s gonna be some good teams. Our league will be very good, but that’s gonna be our overall goal and then we set the goal that we’ve gotta get better every single week and hopefully by the end of the year you’re playing your best football.”

Rich Rebels at a glance

Coach: Ashley Brown is back for his 15th season, having compiled a 102-57 record to date.

Offense

(5 returning starters; Option offense)

Most of the skill players will be back for Rich, most notably running back Cache Sabey. All indications are that the senior is primed for a big season. Also back are wideouts Jayden Wallentine and Wyatt Muirbrook. They’ll help Koy Brown, who is replacing McKay Jarman at quarterback. The Rebels will also have experience in the trenches with Ryley Smith and Porter Argyle returning.

Defense

(5 returning starters)

This unit will also be experienced, with Sabey and Mitch Jarman at linebacker and Brown, Wallentine and Leifson all back in the secondary. Defensive line is the one question mark of the team with some inexperienced players looking to step up.

Coaches preseason Region 1A North straw poll: Second

Deseret News Region 1A North prediction: Second

Bottom line: Rich certainly has the makings of a team that can finally dethrone Duchesne, but the effectiveness of Brown at quarterback is a question mark, as is the defensive line. The Rebels are hungry after a dramatically difficult loss in the state championship game, but will that motivation and the team’s overall experience be enough to put them over the top?

….

Rich coaching history

2000-current — Ashley Brown (102-57)

1991-1999 — Jerre Holmes (67-30)

1989-1990 — Dan Haskell (8-12)

1985-1988 — Dean Scott (13-20)

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Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years

2009 — Bradley Holmes, QB/LB

Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years

2013 — McKay Jarman, QB/DE

2013 — Dakota Clark, RB/DL

2013 — Skyler Argyle, TE?DE

2013 — Hawkan Cornia, OL/DL

2013 — Isaac Hopkin, OL/DL

2012 — Austin Groll, QB/DB

2012 — Kaden Thomson, RB/LB

2012 — McKay Jarman, WR/DL

2012 — Kade Earley, OL/DL

2011 — Austin Groll, QB/LB

2011 — Brady Meek, RB/LB, Rich

2011 — Bracken Pinter, TE/DE

2010 — Kayden Calder, QB/DB

2010 — Kalen Larsen, OL/DL

2010 — Cody Groll, RB/DB

2010 — Phillip Peart, OL/LB

2009 — Caden Andersen, QB/LB

2009 — Hayden McKee, RB/LB

2009 — Clint Cornelison, WR/DB

2009 — Cooper Cornia, LB/RB

2009 — Tyson Larsen, OL/LB

2008 — Caden Andersen, WR/DB

2008 — Bradley Holmes, QB/LB

2007 — Kade Bell, OL/DL

2007 — Bradley Holmes, QB/DB

2007 — Clayson Myers, RB/LB

2007 — Tyler Satterthwaite, RB

2006 — Derek Andersen, RB/LB

2006 — Jared Hislop, RB/LB

2005 — Zach Marler, OL/DL

2005 — Derek Andersen, RB/LB

2004 — Jordan McKee, QB

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2004 — Sean Weston, RB

2004 — David Herrera, LB

To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.

Ryan McDonald is a former intern at LDS Church News. He is studying communication at the University of Utah, where he works as the sports editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle. He can be reached via email at mcdonald.ryanw@gmail.co