SALT LAKE CITY — High school football has been an ingrained tradition in the state of Utah since 1898. It survived cancellation in 1918 because of the Spanish Flu. It survived without any playoffs in 1942 due to World War II.
It's survived the test of time.
For the first 71 years, players participated in two classifications — A and B — until the introduction of 2A in 1969. Over the course of the next three years, 3A and 4A were created before 5A began play in 1993. During 114 years of competition there have been 295 champions from 71 different programs — five of which no longer exist.
Every champion was the best team at one particular time, but some stand out above the rest. In an attempt to answer an age-old question, the Deseret News flipped through the record books to find out:
Who is the greatest individual team from the state of Utah?
Several factors were taken into consideration. First, teams with more than two losses were automatically eliminated — giving 1997 Grantsville, which holds the all-time record for interceptions (33), the boot.
Second, the minimal requirement for total games played was 13. Therefore, 1998 Olympus, ’99 Snow Canyon, 2001 Northridge and ’09 Rich were omitted. Last, because of technological advancements and extensive rules changes, teams before 1970 were phased out. That includes 1947 Jordan, which featured the “five battering Beetdiggers” backfield.
Eventually, the list of champions was narrowed down to 17 teams that generated the largest margin of victory and the most players awarded postseason honors: 1973 Beaver, 1990 Skyline, 1998 San Juan, 1996 East, 1999 Skyline, 2003 Hunter, 2004 Bear River, 2005 Logan, 2006 Bingham, 2007 Timpview, 2007 Alta, 2008 Juan Diego, 2008 Timpview, 2010 Bingham, 2011 Logan, 2011 Lone Peak and 2012 Jordan
In terms of utter dominance, 2010 Bingham (13-0) arguably is the best team ever composed in the state of Utah. The Miners’ average margin of victory was 39.6 points after cashing a Ulysses S. Grant (50 points) on the scoreboard every Friday night. In total, nine players were named to the Deseret News first team, including 5A MVP Stefan Cantwell.
“I cannot imagine a better team to come out of the state of Utah,” Bingham coach Dave Peck said. “It’s the best high school group that I’ve ever been around. I want to say that we ended up having 15, maybe even 16 guys that ended up playing college football off that team. It was one of those magical years — just crazy good.”
The Miners rose as high as No. 2 in USA Today's national poll. In many of Bingham's games that year, the second half was irrelevant once the starters were pulled, a characteristic the 16 other teams share in common. Against Copper Hills in 2010, Bingham led 49-0 after the first quarter alone.
“There wasn’t a game that year that we ever felt threatened,” Peck said.
Defensively, 1973 Beaver sets the precedence. The Beavers (13-0) gave up just 25 points the entire season (1.9 ppg), and tallied the single-season shutout record (10) by finishing with seven consecutive goose eggs. In 1996, East recorded seven shutouts, including a 37-0 win over Timpview in the 4A championship game, and coughed up a mere 4.8 points per game.
Other teams to allow fewer than 10 points per game were ‘08 Juan Diego (6.2 ppg), ’98 San Juan (6.4 ppg) and ’10 Bingham (9.5 ppg).
The 2005 Logan team (13-1) averaged 47.6 points per game and allowed 13.8. In addition to quarterback Riley Nelson, who was named Mr. Football after having statistically the best season by an individual player ever, seven players were named to the Deseret News first team.
“Those guys were very competitive,” Logan coach Mike Favero said. “Our practices were like games on Friday nights. It’s kind of rare to get kids to compete at such a high level on a daily basis. I mean it was a war everyday in practice. That’s what made those guys so great.”
Offensively, Logan’s per game average in 2005 was second only to ’10 Bingham (49.1 ppg). Other teams that dropped 40-plus points every Friday night were 2012 Jordan (47.5 ppg), ‘11 Logan (43.6 ppg), ‘98 San Juan (42.5 ppg), ‘07 Timpview (42 ppg), ‘99 Skyline (41.5 ppg) and ‘03 Hunter (41 ppg).
Eight teams featured a player honored as Mr. Football and 11 showcased the MVP of the classification. Six had both: ‘03 Hunter, ‘99 Skyline, ‘12 Jordan, ‘04 Bear River (Jason Zundel earned both) and ‘08 Timpview. However, only one team uniquely displayed two Mr. Football recipients and a 5A MVP recipient: 2007 Alta (13-1).
That year, Boo Andersen (2007 Mr. Football), Sausan Shakerin (2006 Mr. Football) and Ryan Rosenvall (5A MVP) along with four others were named to the Deseret News first team.
“The coaches, we definitely felt the pressure. There were times the coaching staff had big-time blowups after games. We knew we had the best team in the state, and anything other than a championship was a disappointment. It weighed on us heavily,” said Pleasant Grove coach Les Hamilton, who coached Alta from 2005-10. “ That 2007 team, in my opinion, is the greatest high school football team I’ve ever been around — very, very special.”
The 2003 Hunter team is possibly the most physically imposing team on the list. The Wolverines, who sent nearly 20 players to the next level, ran the table behind Ray Feinga, Tauni Vakapuna and Matt Asiata.
“They were a pretty rough bunch,” Wes Wilcken, who coached Hunter from 1999-2007, said. “I used to refer to them as ‘brutality at it’s finest.’ In my 25 years coaching in Utah, it’s one of the better teams I’ve seen — if not the best. Physicality-wise I don’t know if that could be matched. It was one of those things that it didn’t matter what got in our way.”
It’s difficult to peg the greatest team by comparing year-to-year champions from different classifications. There will always be arguments in favor of and against every team. So, let the debate rage on.
Which individual team really is the greatest the state has ever seen?
Deseret News sports writer Trevor Phibbs was a member of the 2007 Alta High football team. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @TPhibbsDNews
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