Syracuse (6-3) at Alta (9-1)
5A state tournament first round
Friday, 3 p.m.
Parry's Power Guide: Alta by 24
All-time series: Alta leads 1-0
Coach vs. coach: First meeting between Syracuse's Russ Jones and Alta's Bob Stephens
Last meeting: Nov. 13, 2008, Alta 42, Syracuse 14 (5A semifinal)
When it comes to this week's first-round matchups in the 5A state playoffs, Alta might look like a prohibitive favorite to roll past Syracuse and into the second round.
After all, the second-ranked Hawks haven't lost since the second week of the season and have been putting up some eye-popping offensive numbers over the past several weeks. The Titans, meanwhile, started the season very strongly but have sputtered somewhat once they got into Region 1 play.
However, first-year Alta head coach Bob Stephens certainly isn't taking anything for granted.
"In my opinion, everything changes for the playoffs," Stephens said. "I know Syracuse will play great against us, and we also have to try and match that intensity they'll come down here with. Anything can happen in these first-round games."
Alta, whose only loss of the season came in Week 2 against defending 5A champion Bingham, roars into postseason play riding high on an eight-game winning streak.
And in their last five games, all lopsided wins, the Hawks have absolutely hammered their opponents, winning by scores like 56-0, 51-0, 62-29 and 48-7 during that span. Their closest margin of victory over those five games — which included three shutouts — was a 21-0 win over Brighton.
Still, coach Stephens sounds very wary.
"That doesn't mean anything unless we come out and play on Friday," he said of the Hawks' recent run of high-scoring offensive outbursts. "That's always going to be my biggest concern, that we think we should win the game because we're a No. 1 seed and they're a 4 seed. That whole region up there is very good; all three of their losses came in their league, and they could just as easy be a No. 1 seed."
Syracuse started the season with four straight victories, and the defensive-minded Titans didn't allow more than 14 points in a game through their first six outings. But they struggled down the stretch, dropping three of their last five decisions.
Syracuse coach Russ Jones knows his team is a decided underdog in this matchup, but he and his team are geared up for the big challenge that awaits them.
"It is what it is and you've got to go play it," he said. "Our kids are pretty excited about being in the playoffs. We thought we could've finished a lot higher in our region, but some things didn't go our way and we didn't do it. Now we're anxious to go down there and see what we can do.
"We're going to have to be at our best to beat 'em. We've got to try to create some turnovers and step up and play; I just hope we can do it.
"The pressure situation could work in our favor," Jones said of the Hawks being heavily favored while his team isn't expected to make much postseason noise. "I think our kids are ready for the challenge. They feel pretty good about what they're doing, and we've got some good matchups with them that we think we can take advantage of."
Trevor Davis is the Titans' best weapon on offense, as he's thrown 11 touchdown passes and has run for five more scores. Tyson Greenwood, Dillon Sandberg and Hunter Dimick lead the way for the Syracuse defense.
Although Alta is one of the three front-runners to claim this year's 5A crown along with Lone Peak and Bingham, coach Stephens doesn't dare look too far down the road for fear of hitting a huge chuckhole along the way.
"There's some great teams that are in this thing, and I really don't want to think about that (championship) too much just yet," he said. "I know it sounds cliche and a little cheesy, but you've really got to look at 'em one game at a time. You can't look ahead, and my biggest thing is keeping my kids focused on that as well.
"You've just got to keep them focused — like a horse with blinders on."
Syracuse statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 22.1 ppg
Scoring defense: 14.7 ppg
Passing leader: Trevor Davis (107-175, 61.1&, 1,189 yards, 11 TDs, 4 INTs).
Rushing leaders: Mason Woodward (151 carries, 662 yards, 3 TDs), Trevor Davis (121 carries, 542 yards, 5 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Diante Mitchell (20 receptions, 371 yards, 4 TDs), Shane Russell (21 receptions, 271 yards, 2 TDs).
Tackles leaders: Tyson Greenwood (68 total tackles), Dillon Sandberg (60 total tackles)
Sacks leaders: Hunter Dimick (8 sacks)
Interceptions leader: Taylor Carlson (3 interceptions)
Alta statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 29.2 ppg
Scoring defense: 12.0 ppg
Passing leader: Tyson Blackner (124-231, 53.7%, 1,799 yards, 18 TDs, 4 INTs)
Rushing leaders: Bryan Engstrom (139 carries, 966 yards, 19 TDs), Tyson Blackner (53 carries, 180 yards, 6 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Steven Richards (29 receptions, 387 yards, 4 TDs), Bryan Engstrom (22 receptions, 472 yards, 2 TDs), Ammon Barker (27 receptions, 335 yards, 6 TDs)
Tackles leaders: Ryan Jensen (63 total tackles), Steven Miller (56 total tackles)
Sacks leaders: Kole Afu (9 sacks), Steven Miller (4.5 sacks)
Interceptions leader: Beaver Ho-Ching (2 interceptions)
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