PLEASANT GROVE A year ago, the Lone Peak Knights and Pleasant Grove Vikings were in a reversed role.
When the Vikings traveled to Highland last season to determine the champion of Region 4, the Knights were wearing that team-to-beat label. This season, when the two teams tangle in the rematch on Friday night on Pleasant Grove's new artificial turf, the Vikings will be the team carrying that favored label.
This time around the Knights are hoping that underdog tag will benefit them as they try to repay the Vikings for last season's road upset. And, just like last season, the two teams are meeting while atop the league standings. This game won't determine the league champion, but it will certainly put one team in the driver's seat.
"This is a key game for both teams if they want to stay in the hunt for the region championship, and we think the winner of this game will probably get a home berth in the first round of the playoffs, so we're looking at this game as a must-win," Pleasant Grove coach Dale Sampson said.
The Knights, at 2-0 in league play, find themselves in a good position despite opening the preseason with five straight losses. But Lone Peak coach Monte Morgan has always been good at not dwelling too much on preseason losses but rather the growth and progress that comes from those non-league games.
"The kids have really bought into that, and they're still working hard and playing hard," Morgan said.
Even though a win Friday would likely secure a postseason spot for the Knights, Morgan is trying to keep his players in that one-game-at-a-time mode, knowing there are two more very difficult region games ahead after this one.
"It's exciting and fun to be in this situation, but jumping up and down and screaming won't win any ball games. Pleasant Grove is a very good football team, and we're going to have to block, tackle and play very good defense to have any chance of winning this football game," he said.
Sampson feels the same way. For the Vikings to control the game, they can't let Lone Peak control the clock or the tempo with a time-consuming running game.
"They've gone back to some of their power stuff, and they're playing much better, so we're expecting a real knock-down, drag-out game," Sampson said.
The Vikings, with backs Brian Schonbeck and LeSean Wilcox, have that double threat of burning teams inside and outside. They've been efficient this year both running the ball and passing it.
"We're trying to stay as balanced as we can because we feel like that gives us a lot more scoring opportunities," Sampson said.
The Knights have played better this year on defense than they have on offense. To upset the Vikings, the Knights will have to have another outstanding game on the defensive side of the ball. Mainly, they can't let Wilcox run loose and get any big plays.
"If we can control him, we'll have a chance. If he runs all over us, we're going to be in trouble," Morgan said.
Rayburn's pick: Pleasant Grove
TIMPANOGOS AT SPANISH FORK: For all intent and purposes, this game is for a spot in the postseason. The game is a little more vital to the Timberwolves, who can't afford another loss. Rayburn's pick: Timpanogos
PROVO AT TOOELE: The Bulldogs really have their backs against the wall, needing to win their next two games or forget any chance of advancing to the playoffs. Can they answer the call? Rayburn's pick: Provo
TIMPVIEW AT SPRINGVILLE: No team in Region 7 can handle the Thunderbirds, and this is another game that should be well out of hand by halftime. The Red Devils just need to make sure no one gets hurt. Rayburn's pick: Timpview
LEHI AT AMERICAN FORK: The Pioneers are in desperate need of a league win. However, the Cavemen are sure to come out fired up after last week's upset loss. Rayburn's pick: American Fork
PAYSON AT OREM: By allowing Tooele to stun them last week, the Lions are now in a tough situation. But a much-needed win is probably not going to come against a Tigers team aiming for a showdown with Mountain View. Rayburn's pick: Orem
AMERICAN LEADERSHIP AT SOUTH SUMMIT: The Eagles are struggling to match up against their deeper opponents. The problem isn't going to go away this year. Rayburn's pick: South SummitRAYBURN'S RECORD: Last week, 4-3; for the season, 48-15