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High school football: Balanced Region 1 will be 'battleground' from top to bottom

Published: Monday, Aug. 19 2013 8:45 p.m. MDT

Fremont is picked to finish fifth in a tough Region 1. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Fremont is picked to finish fifth in a tough Region 1. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Sure, there’s that new powerhouse league in Salt Lake County that’s loaded with terrific 5A football teams like Bingham, Alta and defending state champion Jordan.

Between those three schools, they’ve won six state titles over the last seven years.

Add Brighton, Copper Hills and West Jordan to that mix, and there’s no doubt that Region 3 is a tough, tough place to play football.

But there’s this league up north, Region 1, that plays some pretty intense football, too. No, they don’t often take home the top prize in the state playoffs, but they sure do a great job of getting one of their teams in the 5A finals year after year after year.

In fact, since Davis High claimed the crown in 2004, Region 1 teams haven’t been able to bring home a 5A state championship. But when it comes to finishing second in the state, well, they seem to have the market on that.

Syracuse lost to Jordan in last year's championship game; Fremont finished second in back-to-back seasons, 2010 and 2011; Layton lost to Alta in the 2007 finals; and Davis dropped the title game to Bingham in 2009.

That’s five runner-up showings in six years, and, what's more impressive, they’ve come from four different programs — Syracuse, Fremont, Layton and Davis.

No wonder, then, that Region 1 coaches feel like they just might have the most balanced football region in the state — perhaps even more balanced than top-heavy Region 3.

“I’m really stressing to our guys about getting ready to play at a high level,” said longtime Davis High head coach Ryan Bishop. “I feel so strongly about the competitive balance in Region 1 and being ready for those region battles here in a month or so. ... We want to make sure that when we really need to be hitting full stride is when our region season rolls around.

“And my thing is, and what I’ve tried to relay to our kids, is there’s no room for mediocrity in Region 1. Nothing against any of the Salt Lake schools or regions, and I know those regions are good right now — you’ve got the Binghams and the Altas and so on down. ... Every one of those regions has got good teams in it, but from top to bottom, I just feel extremely strong that Region 1 is the most competitive, balanced region in the state.”

Fremont High head coach Kory Bosgieter, whose team finished far down the league standings last season, then went on the road and knocked off Region 2 champ Hunter in the first round of the state playoffs, agreed completely with Bishop’s assessment.

“Is there a tougher region top to bottom than Region 1?” Bosgieter posed. “There’s outstanding teams in every region, and people may argue with you ... but top to bottom, I think we’re as tough or tougher than anybody out there.”

Bishop said one of the great things about their league is the way underdog teams are constantly rising up to knock off one of the favorites — if you could actually call them that. He’s not so sure.

“The thing about Region 1 is ... it’s easy to see that Syracuse is kinda that premier team right now, but it’s just so hard — there’s not a clear-cut favorite in Region 1,” Bishop said. “You’ve always got somebody beating somebody they’re not supposed to beat. That’s always the way it is.

“We always have upsets; we’re always going down to the last couple weeks of the season for playoff spots and seedings. ... And in our region, teams are so well-coached and there’s so much familiarity up here and I keep talking about the competitive balance.

“We’ve been really good sometimes and had one of those games where we lost when we didn’t think we should have, and vice versa. Sometimes we haven’t been very good and been able to beat somebody else,” Bishop said.

Northridge coach Erik Thompson sees it pretty much the same way.

“On every given Friday, anyone’s gonna be able to win a game and you’d better come prepared,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of games in this region that could go either way.”

Region 1 newcomer Viewmont struggled through a subpar season last year, and Weber High has become the league doormat with a long losing streak going back a couple of seasons.

But Syracuse coach Russ Jones, whose team took the league title last year by going undefeated and is favored to repeat as region champs again this year, says Region 1 teams just keep getting better every year.

“Everybody in our region, to me, has improved from last year,” he said. “It was a heckuva job by our kids last year to go 5-0 and win the region. But I think every team’s improved this year from last year, and hopefully we have, too. I think anybody can beat anybody on any given day, I really do.”

Perhaps Layton High coach Jim Batchelor summed up the upcoming Region 1 campaign best

“It’ll be a battlefield,” he said, “like it always is.”

Deseret News projections for Region 1 football

(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)

1. SYRACUSE: The Titans finished second in the state last season and have several key players returning from that team, most notably senior running back Kavika Fonua, senior offensive/defensive linemen Kaden Craig and Caden Hall, and senior linebackers Wyatt German and Teague Vigil. With six starters back on each side of the ball, Syracuse looks well-suited for a strong run at a second straight region championship. 2012 RECORD: 12-1 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Jordan 58-2 in 5A state finals.

2. DAVIS: The tradition-rich Darts will rely on senior quarterback Colton Chronister to spearhead their offense, and he's joined in their senior-laden lineup by running back Parker Rose and slotback Jayden Richins, with center Ammon Wall anchoring the O-line. Defensively, senior linemen Kawika Tupuola, Christian Hassan and Chandler Rudolph are joined by linebacker Davis Hansen in a formidable group. 2012 RECORD: 7-5 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Lone Peak 27-26 in 5A quarterfinals.

3. NORTHRIDGE: The Knights have somewhat of a rarity — a returning starter at quarterback — in senior Nate Kusuda, and junior running back Dayan Lake might emerge as one of the most electrifying players in the state. In senior receivers Robert Crawford and Houston Lacey and senior tight end Jace Colby, the Knights have plenty of playmakers on offense. Hard-hitting linebackers Austin Ricks and Jaiden Bair spearhead the defense. 2012 RECORD: 9-3 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Jordan 49-13 in 5A quarterfinals.

4. LAYTON: Hunter Evans gives the Lancers a third-year starter at quarterback, and with six starters returning on offense, Layton looks like it's ready to earn an invitation to the postseason party this year. Slotback Jordan Jaramillo and offensive linemen Brando Nieto, Landon Brown, Zerek Olson and Stetson Wood, along with defensive end Mason Ewing, are all returning starters that should help push Layton into the playoffs. 2012 RECORD: 3-8 PLAYOFFS: Lost 5A play-in game to Davis 23-16.

5. FREMONT: The Silver Wolves are expecting big things out of junior quarterback Justin Shaw and junior tight end/defensive end Paxton Merrill. Junior running back Cole Bingham and senior wide receiver Hyrum Packard are also being counted on to make plays for the offense, as is senior slotback Parker Preator. With the backbone of its team coming from a big and talented junior class, Fremont may be a year away from serious league title contention. 2012 RECORD: 4-7 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bingham 38-0 in 5A quarterfinals.

6. VIEWMONT: Thanks to realignment, the Vikings return to Region 1 again to renew rivalries with some of their former longtime Davis County rivals, as well as Fremont and Weber. Viewmont went 0-3 against Region 1 foes last year, though, losing by a combined score of 126-13 to Davis, Layton and Syracuse. Viewmont has a tight-knit group of athletes with great senior leadership from the likes of starting center Dallin Tracy. 2012 RECORD: 2-9 PLAYOFFS: Lost to Syracuse 54-0 in 5A playoffs' first round.

7. WEBER: The Warriors and first-year head coach Matt Hammer will try to get that gorilla-sized monkey off their backs that has seen Weber go without a win since September 2010. The cupboard certainly isn't bare by any means, though, and they've got some good athletes in junior quarterback Cole Dean, senior running back Auston Tesch and senior tight end/linebacker Huston Wade, so that monkey had better be looking for a place to land. 2012 RECORD: 0-10 PLAYOFFS: Did not qualify.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com

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