Orem High football coach Paul Clark still second-guesses himself about a decision he made a year ago when his team lost a heartbreaker to Arizona's second-best team.
"If I had to do it over," said Clark, "I think I'd fly."The 14-hour bus ride the day after his Tigers suffered a 22-19 defeat to Tucson-based pigskin powerhouse Amphitheater High was anything but a joy ride. It gave Clark and his players way too much time to wonder how and why they let a late lead against Arizona's eventual 5A runner-up team slip away.
"It was a long trip," Clark said.
Orem will get a chance to return the favor to Amphi later this week.
On Thursday, Amphi took to the airways to make the trek to Utah County. The two teams will play the second game of their home-and-away series Friday at 7 p.m. at Orem High.
If fourth-ranked Orem plays like it did in its 28-8 thumping of Timpview last week, the Tigers should be sending the Panthers back to Tucson on a not-so-bon voyage Saturday.
A good showing would only help Orem - and Utah prep football in general - garner some out-of-state respect. Amphi is the No. 6-ranked team in Arizona's largest classification this year. The top-ranked team in Class 5A is Mesa's Mountain View High, which is currently ranked seventh in the West by USA Today. Last year, then-nationally ranked Mountain View scored late to edge Amphi to win the 5A championship.
The game is also a great tuneup for the Tigers, who begin their tough Region 3 schedule next Friday against Mountain View (the one from Orem, not Mesa).
Those are both great reasons why it's a good idea for Orem to be taking on a tough out-of-state team. However, they have nothing to do with why Orem and Amphi are playing this series.
Clark said he had a date unexpectedly open up on his schedule for the 1997 season, but he couldn't find a Utah team that would or could play the Tigers. He then heard through the grapevine that the Arizona squad was also looking for a good team to play on the same day.
This will be the last time for a while, though, that Orem or any of the other football teams from the Alpine School District will be able to do a home-and-away series with an out-of-state team. The district is enforcing a new rule that none of its schools' sporting teams will be able to travel out of Utah unless they're competing in a national competition or tournament.
"The only sport that it really affects is football. I'm not real happy about that," Clark said. "If it comes down to a point where we don't have a game again, where will we find a team to play?"
99 AND COUNTING: The granddaddy of all of Utah high school football rivalries will take place Friday at 4 p.m. when East visits West for their 99th encounter since 1914.
"Neighborhood-wise, this is as big as BYU-Utah," said new West coach Sam Aloia. "I live in the West High boundaries and I have people telling me all the time, `We've gotta win this game.' "
Aloia invited his predecessor, former West coach Don Holtry, to speak to his team about the rivalry on Thursday. But most of the Panthers are already plenty aware of the historical significance of the state's most-played series.
"It's like a state championship game to me," said West's defensive star Chris Alo. "It's mostly about bragging rights."
West will have to do without its starting running back. Senior Joe Hafoka has been suspended for one game for missing a practice last Saturday.
"I'd give anything to play in this game," Hafoka said. "But I give props to Coach for laying down the law. I messed up. . . . I'm going to come back strong."
East players acknowledge the rivalry, but they're taking a low-keyed approach to the hype.
"I think we've been rivals forever," said East quarterback Sam Walton. "But it's just another game for us."
HERE THEY GO AGAIN: The East-West showdown is one of several notable longtime rivalries in the state this week. Probably the best of the bunch will take place in South Jordan, where Bingham hosts Brighton in the 34th game of their uninterrupted series that began in 1969.
The second-ranked Bengals were impressive in beating fifth-ranked Granger 34-27 last week, but they'll be without starting quarterback C.T. Bell. He separated his non-throwing left shoulder while diving into the end zone in the third quarter, and the offense sputtered after that. Lineman Josh Huber will also miss the game after being injured against the Lancers.
This will be the seventh time in four years the two teams have met. Brighton has won four in a row, including last year's 5A quarterfinal victory.
In a rivalry that's more than twice as old, North Summit will travel to play Morgan in the 76th annual "Spear" game. Class 3A's third-ranked Trojans lead the 70-year-old series 41-27-7.
Northern Utah has another old battle as Bear River visits Logan for their 68th clash since 1925.
And, from the "Why are they still playing this game?" department, Beaver travels to Parowan on Friday to compete in the state's most-lopsided rivalry. The Beavers hold a 54-3-1 advantage in the series that dates to 1941. The Rams haven't won since 1975.
SOD, BUT TRUE: Friday's Highland-Judge Memorial football game has been relocated to Highland High at 7 p.m. The Region 5 matchup couldn't be played on Judge's field because the Bulldogs' new turf is still unsettled.