SALT LAKE CITY — Juan Diego is good — oh so very good. That, in itself, is a drastic undersell. It's safely said that very few expected anything remotely close to what the Soaring Eagle did to Hurricane, the defending 3A state champion, last week in the quarterfinals.
Juan Diego, behind the run, buried the Tigers deeper than a toddler's Tonka Truck in a sandbox, 38-0. The Soaring Eagle has yet to allow a single point this postseason, and after a one-year hiatus, have made reservations again at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the fourth time in five years.
They'll dance with Dixie (9-2), which also returns to the semifinals for the first time since 2009 after knocking off previously unbeaten Stansbury, 20-13, on the road. Kickoff is set for Friday at 6:30 p.m.
"They're just well-coached. They block, tackle, run the ball; they're not going to beat themselves with stupid penalties and they're just a sound football team," Dixie coach Blain Monkres said of the Soaring Eagle. "I think anytime you're in the semifinals, there's a little bit of pressure on you. But hopefully we're ready to go, even though there's added pressure, and (we can) perform like we're capable of doing."
Defensively, Juan Diego (12-0) is collecting comparisons to the 2008 team that ultimately capped off a 14-0 season with a 3A championship. That defense, statistically, ranks in the upper echelon of state history by allowing 6.2 points per game. This season, Juan Diego has only allowed 81 points, including 24 points in the past eight games with four shutouts.
"I've been watching film for about three days now and I'm not sure they do have a weakness," Monkres said. "They're big up front, their linebackers are big and can run and they're solid in the secondary. We're going to go out and see, maybe after we get going, if we have an advantage whether it's throwing the ball or trying to run."
If the Flyers are to reverse the fortunes of the 41-0 loss to Juan Diego in the 2011 playoffs' first round, they'll need quarterback Blake Barney, a three-year starter, to perhaps string together the best performance of his decorated career.
"Blake is going to have to play his best game and be a little more consistent than he did last week," Monkres said. "Everybody else has to catch balls. We dropped three or four balls and we got to catch those. Obviously, the offensive line has to protect Blake. He can't do it all on his own."
Barney has completed over 50 percent of his passing attempts for 2,482 yards and 24 touchdowns while only throwing three interceptions this year. He also leads the team in rushing, by 766 yards, with 1,041 and 14 scores.
"Well, I'm hoping he misses the bus on the way up to Rice-Eccles," Juan Diego coach John Colosimo quipped when asked how he planned on defending the senior. "He's the leading rusher by far, so we got be conscious of him and his ability to run the ball. They have some designed runs but he's also very good at just taking off once things break down in the passing game. So he's very dangerous in that regard."
"Once we get them into where they're going to throw the ball, we can't just sit back in cover-3 and let him pick us apart because he will," Colosimo continued. "You'll see us doing a couple things, disguising some looks, and maybe he'll throw an interception. He's pretty good with the ball, so if we got an interception I think that'd be a win for us."
Colosimo noted that if the offensive line provides the same surge that contributed to the 375 yards and four rushing touchdowns against Hurricane, it could serve as the best defensive scheme against Dixie's 36.8 points per game production.
"No doubt that it begins with those five up front. If we keep the ball then obviously that's good defense on Barney," he said. "If he's sitting on the sidelines drinking Gatorade and we're getting first downs then we're doing a pretty good job defending against him. We got to rely on the offensive line to control the line of scrimmage."
Juan Diego has a veteran blocking corps in the trenches highlighted by three-year starters Zack Schekel (5-11, 230lbs) at center and Harry Jones (6-2,235lbs) at right tackle. Cameron Rokich (6-6, 232lbs), Winston Swicord (5-10, 215lbs) and junior Mason Pearce-Clawson (6-3, 212lbs), who Colosimo referred to as a "big physical presence" complete the front five that averages 277.4 yards per game on the ground.
One blatant advantage in favor of Dixie is experience in the fourth quarter. Juan Diego hasn't entered the final quarter with the game still in doubt since Sept. 7 against Skyline. The Flyers, three times, have needed to score in the fourth quarter to win.
"That's always a concern when you haven't been in the game in the fourth quarter and you have to make some plays. That's a concern, no doubt about that," Colosimo said. "I think it hurt us last year in the quarterfinals. We got into a tough second half with a very good team and we didn't respond very well.
"You look at Dixie in that regard they have the edge. They've been in those type of games and they've responded."
Monkres, nonetheless, doesn't believe the lack of late-game competition is an issue.
"They're well coached and (Colosimo isn't) going to let them let down," he said. "Coaches know that on any given day anybody can beat anybody so they'll come to play. It seems like the bigger the game the better they play."
Dixie vs. Juan Diego
Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Parry's Power: JD by 9
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