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Utah high school football: Titans send dynamic defense up against 'Diggers' explosive offense

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 6:17 p.m. MDT

Utah State High School 5A Football semifinal between Syracuse and Bingham in Rice-Eccles Stadium, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (Ben Brewer, Deseret News) Utah State High School 5A Football semifinal between Syracuse and Bingham in Rice-Eccles Stadium, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (Ben Brewer, Deseret News)

SYRACUSE — As the 2012 high school football campaign unfolded, there were two 5A teams that steadily stood tall above all the rest, seemingly headed for a state championship showdown at season's end.

And now, they'll provide the perfect matchup between the proverbial irresistable force and the immovable object.

The irresistable force is Jordan High's high-powered offense, which has consistently piled up 40-plus and 50-plus points as regularly as those high-flying Ducks from the University of Oregon. The Region 3 champion Beetdiggers (11-1) averaged nearly 47 points per game this season, never scored less than 33 all year long, scored 48 or more seven times and continued their torrid 47-point pace in their three postseason wins.

On Friday, they'll run head-on into the immovable object, Syracuse High's stingy defense, which has allowed barely more than 9 points per game this season. The undefeated Region 1 champion Titans (12-0) have given up more than 16 points in a game only once all year, and that was in their quarterfinal playoff victory over Alta, which managed to put 24 points on the board — and still lost. Syracuse shut out four opponents this season, held two more to 8 or fewer points, and limited four more to 14 or less.

And in Friday's 5A title duel, each team will run up against an opponent which will provide each of them with likely their sternest test of the entire season — strength against strength.

The Titans don't seem fazed by the enormous challenge that lies ahead.

“I think if everyone does their jobs and executes what they’ve been taught, I think that we could actually shut ‘em down," said Syracuse junior defensive end Jace Purser. "That’s what we did against Bingham (in last week's 21-16 semifinal win)."

But the once-beaten Beetdiggers (11-1) are a whole 'nother challenge, led by sophomore quarterback Austin Kafentzis, who has thrown for 2,623 yards and 28 touchdowns while running for another 1,647 yards and 20 more scores on the ground.

“They’ve got a pretty big O-line so he doesn’t really have to move around too much, but we’ll get to him," Purser said. "They run quarterback-counter and if we just do our jobs and squeeze down, get off our blockers, we should make the tackle.

“He’s a really good athlete. He started as a freshman, so that’s big — anybody that starts as a freshman has got to be really talented. So we have total respect for him. But it still doesn’t mean we’re not gonna show up."

Junior linebacker Teague Vigil said the Syracuse coaching staff does an excellent job in getting them prepared for the task at hand.

“Our coaches, they do a really good job of preparing us," he said. "When we watch film, they walk us through everything, play by play, making sure that we’re prepared so we know what we’ve got to do on certain plays and certain formations.

"No. 2 (Kafentzis) and No. 5 (running back Clay Moss) are players; we’ve got to shut ‘em down. ... They’re both good; they get in open space and they’ll make plays."

Moss gives the 'Diggers another dynamic weapon, as he has rushed for almost 1,000 yards and scored 20 touchdowns on the ground, with three more scores through the air. Nick West and Mason Krueger have combined for over 110 catches good for almost 1,700 yards and 18 TDs for Jordan.

Syracuse senior linebacker Myles Naisbitt says the key is to "stop the run game first. We’ve got to stop both, but we’ve got to stop the run game and make ‘em pass. They’ve got that running back, No. 5 — Clay Moss — they gave him a lot of carries last game.

"And their quarterback can get out of the pocket and scramble. We’re going to try and have good pass coverage and have a couple of backers sitting there so he can’t be scrambling everywhere.

“We’ve always been the underdog ever since the first game and we’ve always been smaller than the other teams, but we’re quicker and that’s how we play," Naisbitt said. "We love to hit and our defense is not scared of anybody. We go into every game with a chip on our shoulder; we know how to get pumped before games, get everyone riled up."

Junior strong safety Kavika Fonua, who sat out last week's game with an ankle injury, is expected to return for Friday's 5A finale. And he says the Titans will be ready for the Jordan offensive assault.

“We're getting their offense down, getting their plays down, and focusing on stopping the run — that’s all we can do," he said. "We'll get ready for them and watch a lot of film.

"We’ve seen their kind of offense before and we’ve stopped them, but we know they have a lot of good players. We’ll do our best.

"He’s good," Fonua said of Kafentzis. "We’ll just have to work a little harder to stop him. He could be one of our hardest, but in order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best."

And although middle linebacker Wyatt German is just a junior and will have another shot at a state-title run next year, he says the Titan team will be pouring all of its energy into bringing home the school's first football state championship on Friday.

"We’ll be playing like it’s our last game; you play every game like it’s your last game," he said. "... You want to help the seniors get their goal and you also want to get the goal yourself because you’ve always had the dream to be a state champion.

“We’ve got a lot of responsibility. We’ve got to stop Kafentzis; we stop their quarterback and stop their run game, force him to throw the ball where it doesn’t need to be thrown, and our DBs will do a good job to get the ball away from them.

“Our way of stopping them is we just take it as they’re just another team," German said. "They’re no different from any of us. Our coaches always tell us they put their shoes on the same way we do; they get ready for practice the same way we do, they get ready for the game the same way we do. It’s just another team. Bingham, Alta, they all put up big numbers, too, but it doesn’t scare us. You’ve always got that."

Koa Mo’o, a senior free safety, had to sit out last week's game after suffering a concussion in the quarterfinal clash with Alta. But he's back feeling 100 percent healthy again, and his presence could be a key factor as Syracuse seeks to take home the title.

“Last week against Bingham, our team stepped up and I’m proud of ‘em," he said. "I’m glad I get another chance to play again. We’ve had guys step up and fill in positions all year long, and they definitely did last week.

“We’re depending on the linemen and linebackers to step up and stop the run game, and we’ll do our thing on defense as the defensive backs. We hope they pass on us; we hope they do. I feel like we’ve got the whole defense that can stop them.

“I think it’ll come down to who wants it more, and we want it pretty bad," Mo'o said. "We’ve been talking about this since Day 1. Winning it would be awesome.”

Caden Call, a 240-pound junior defensive tackle for Syracuse, simplifies the Titans' tough task this way: Just do your job and everything else will take care of itself.

“Just do our job that we’ve been doing all season long," he said. "Our job has got us 12-0, so we’ve just got to finish it out tough against a tough team and do what we’ve got to do.

“They look good but I think we look good, too. I think if we play our best game, it’ll be a great game. I think both sides have got to play their best to win this game.

“They’re a good defense. We run to the ball; they like to run to the ball, too. Their offense might overshadow them a little bit; they’re still a good ‘D,” but I think we’re the best ‘D,’ " Call said. "You’ve always got to think you’re the best to be the best, just be confident in yourself."

Junior strong safety Colton Chadwick, who filled in when Fonua couldn't go last week, said that experience helped him shake his pregame jitters.

“I’m not too nervous now," he said. "I was pretty nervous going in last week, but now I’ve got some experience, I think I’ll be ready. Our whole defense will be ready.

“They look like they’ve got some playmakers on offense; they’ve got a great run game and they've got a good running back, but I think our defense can handle ‘em. We’ve got to get turnovers and make a bunch of great defensive plays."

The feisty, determined German, all 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds of him (after a real big dinner) summed up the matchup this way:

“I’ve been looking forward to this since the season started," he said. "I thought Jordan’s gonna be a great team, we’re a great team, and I hope to see ‘em in the finals and then everybody can see a great game. And it’ll be a great game.

"I saw it coming a long way. They’ve got potential; we’ve got potential. It’s gonna be great players against great players. It’s gonna come down to the fourth quarter, I bet.”

Of course, there's that old saying about "defense wins championships."

Syracuse sure hopes it's true, and Titans head coach Russ Jones says, "That's what you hear. We'll see if it pans out.

"They're really good, they are. They're really, really good," he said of the Beetdiggers. "Kafentzis and Moss are great players, and their linemen are big.

"But we've got a d--- good defense, as good as we've ever had. So I guess we'll find out on Friday."

Yep, the irresistible force and the immovable object are on a collision course, and something's gotta give. On Friday at 2:30 p.m. in Rice-Eccles Stadium, we'll find out which one.

email: rhollis@desnews.com

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com

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