The fallout from statewide realignment always leads to a handful of changes once tournament time rolls around.
New bracket layouts and unexpected matchups are common, and — for Utah's three smaller football classifications — the latest changes mean a whole new setup for the semifinal and final games.
“All the changes the UHSAA has made with the tournament makes this exciting,” said Ron Dolphin, assistant football coach and athletic director at Grand County High.
In similar fashion to the larger three classifications, which play all six semifinals and three championship games at Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah, the new 3A, 2A, and 1A schools will play both final rounds together, first at Southern Utah University for the semifinals and then at Weber State University for the finals.
“It adds a freshness to it with all the teams coming together at SUU and then WSU,” said Dolphin, whose team plays North Summit at 11 a.m. on Saturday in the first 2A semifinal game. Beaver will then meet South Summit at 1:30 p.m. in the other 2A semifinal prior to an evening 3A game.
In addition to the new setup, Dolphin believes that the four teams who earned spots in the semifinals will make for some excellent games.
“All four teams have a viable shot to win the state title,” he said. “There’s not any heavy favorite as in years past, and that makes it really exciting. I think it is going to come down to who can execute and who can control the line of scrimmage.”
The Red Devils have secured a spot as one of the final four teams for the second year in a row behind the play of a solid offensive line. Seniors Edgar Gomez, David Bentley, Austin Day and Justin Cresswell and sophomore Brandon Secrest have protected quarterbacks Jacob Francis and Koi Cook all season.
The Red Devils scored 200 points through region play, the third-best total in 2A, and suffered just one loss all year to another semifinal team, Beaver High. Grand was the second-seeded team from 2A South this season and will meet the No. 1 team from the northern region.
“North Summit looks good on film,” Dolphin said. “They look like they have speed. We have to do our best to get to them before they hit their second and third gears.”
The Braves have been led all season by the play of Ryan McMichael and Josh Birk, who have combined for more than 1,300 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.
North Summit earned the top seed with a head-to-head victory over rival South Summit, a team that would like an opportunity at a rematch in the state final.
“They beat us and it has been the hot topic every since,” said South Summit coach Jerry Parker. “The question has been, will we get to meet again for the title?”
Before that can happen, Parker and the Wildcats must take care of Beaver, the No. 1 seed from the southern region and a team South Summit defeated by 31 points in the fourth week of the season.
“Playing a team we played already, that’s hard,” Parker said. “We know they’re a good team; we know they’re going to come at us pretty hard; but we can’t let that earlier win get in our way.”
The Wildcats will look again to junior Colby Averett, who leads the team with 1,198 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns as well as 103 tackles and an interception on defense.
Meanwhile, Beaver depends on a strong rushing attack from Jesse McMillin, who has more than 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, and a strong passing game from Kasen Hutchins, who has nearly 900 passing yards and 15 scores.
“These games keeping getting more difficult as we get deeper into the tournament,” Dolphin said. “We are just excited to have the opportunity to keep playing.”
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.
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