SALT LAKE CITY — Mutual respect between Bingham and Lone Peak abounds as the programs prepare to meet each other in the 5A state semifinals this Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Given the recent success both programs have enjoyed, respect would seem easy to come by.
Bingham, with its championships and general dominance over the last decade and rise to national prominence, has certainly become the standard of Utah prep football in most circles. And then there’s Lone Peak, which will be making its fourth-straight trip to Rice-Eccles on the heels of a championship in 2011.
“It’s a great matchup, and to be paired with a team like Bingham — it’s just a great opportunity and a great challenge for us and something we’re excited about,” said Lone Peak coach Mike Mower. “(Bingham) coach (Dave) Peck has built the class program in the entire state, as far as I’m concerned, with what he’s done over the years. It’s truly the state’s elite program.”
Bingham has proved equal to its reputation this season, compiling a 12-0 record and rising to the top of Region 3, which was considered by most to be the toughest region in the state this fall.
“It’s been a really rewarding year for me as a coach regardless of what happens from here on out,” Peck said. “This team is one of the top two or three teams I’ve been a part of over the last 30 years or so with regards to overall dedication and work ethic. It’s really been a pleasure to coach these guys and watch them grow together as a team. This is a real team, in every sense of the word.”
Bingham enters the semis after blowing through West and Riverton by respective scores of 41-10 and 43-10. Peck believes his team is peaking at the right time behind quarterback Kyle Gearig and playmakers Scott Nichols and Dalton Schlutz — as well as a host of others.
“I think Kyle Gearig has seen great improvement and his play has to be among the most surprising in the state,” Peck said. “He’s an electrifying playmaker and Scott Nichols — I wouldn’t trade him for anyone — and then you have Dalton Schultz, who is the best tight end we’ve produced for a long time, probably ever.”
“It’s just a typical Coach Peck-coached team,” Mower observed. “They’re fundamentally sound at every position and as well-coached as any team you’ll see. We’re going to have to play our best game to beat them — no question.”
Lone Peak enters the semifinals after enduring a lot of adversity and a slow start to the season. The Knights dropped their first two region games before rebounding to finish out with four straight leagues wins and another berth in the state playoffs.
“The kids deserve most the credit — they always do — but we’ve really benefited from some great coaches I’ve been blessed to have on my staff,” Mower said. “I think most of the improvement has come on defense, where our defensive coordinator, Jared Harward, has really done an outstanding job. On offense I have Gary Sheide running things and there’s none better. He’s just an anchor and someone I rely on totally. Coaches like that make it easy for me, and that’s not even mentioning the players and everything they’ve done.”
Lone Peak quarterback Baron Gajkowski leads the way for the Knights and is accompanied by some outstanding playmakers, including receiver Dylan Murdoch and what has become a dominating defense.
“Lone Peak is a great team with a great coaching staff,” Peck said. “Baron Gajkowski is an exceptional player and we’ll have our work cut out trying to contain him. To win this game we need make sure we don’t get into a shootout situation, and our offense needs to control possession and not turn the ball over. I think if we accomplish those things that we should win the game, but it won’t be easy against a team like that.”
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