Tom Smart, Deseret News
Northridge's Brock Johnson is arguably the most underrated player in 5A, and he's a star for the Knights on both offense and defense.

Northridge (8-2) at Alta (4-6)

5A state tournament first round

Friday, 4 p.m.

Parry's Power Guide: Alta by 3

All-time series: Northridge leads, 2-1

Coach vs. Coach: Northridge's Ryan Thompson and Alta's Les Hamilton, first meeting

Last meeting: Aug. 24, 2000 — Northridge 27, Alta 20

In his previous five seasons at Alta, coach Les Hamilton took his team to Rice-Eccles Stadium in the postseason each time.

Getting there a sixth time in Hamilton's final season at the school would probably be his biggest accomplishment. Alta, after a disappointing 4-6 regular season, faces a formidable opponent in Northridge in the first round of the 5A playoffs on Friday. The winner will probably play No. 1 Bingham in the quarterfinals.

The Knights (8-2) lost to Region 1 champion Fremont and Davis by a combined nine points during the season, and look capable of ending Alta's season.

"I look at Northridge and they're nine points from being 10-0," Hamilton said. "We've got our work cut out for us. We're going to have to raise our level of play to be successful."

While Alta's record is surprisingly below .500, the Hawks have played a daunting schedule. Five of the teams the Hawks lost to are in the top seven of the Deseret News' top 25 poll. The other team that beat Alta, Pleasant Grove, qualified for the playoffs on Tuesday.

There have been problems with execution on both sides of the ball for Alta, but the biggest issue for the players may be their belief in themselves.

"The best way to describe us right now is we just don't have confidence," Hamilton said.

Playing without a swagger against Northridge will get the Hawks beat.

The Knights are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence and are well-equipped to do some damage in postseason play. They feature a talented cast of players who want to get their program back on the map, and beating Alta would send the message that they are indeed back.

Quarterback Trent Buckley leads a solid rushing attack and is complimented nicely in his offense by running backs Brock Johnson and Jordan Lee. Buckley can also throw the ball to a talented receiving corps, led by Shaymus Bertagnolli.

Northridge coach Erik Thompson said his team will have to be at its best to beat the Hawks.

"I could care less what Alta's record is," he said. "I see them on film and I see a team that easily could be 8-2 or 9-1."

The Knights haven't won a playoff game since 2004, and failed to win close games against Davis and Fremont during the regular season. Northridge will have to avoid the turnovers and mistakes that prevented them from beating the Darts and Silver Wolves Those losses forced them into having a lower seed and first-round road game against Alta.

"Here we are again, playing a similar type of game," Thompson said of a game that seems evenly matched. "If we make plays and don't turn the ball over, we can win that type of game. I'm not sure anyone wants to play Alta."

Interestingly, what could be Hamilton's last game coaching in Utah high school football before he moves to Chile to help run a seafood exporting company, will come against an old friend.

Hamilton and Thompson played college ball together at Snow College and have been friends ever since. They have a mutual respect for each other and have shared thoughts on strategy and philosophy. The two teams are basically running the same offense and defense.

That means there probably won't be any secrets or surprises when the two teams play. The one that makes fewer mistakes and executes their stuff better will advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Northridge statistical breakdown

Scoring offense: 31.7 ppg

Scoring defense: 12.2 ppg

Passing leader: Trent Buckley (82-of-145, 56.6%, 1,401 yards, 10 TDs)

Rushing leaders: Brock Johnson & Jordan Lee (119 carries, 806 yards, 10 TDs; 97 carries, 601 yards, 9 TDs)

Receiving leader: Shaymus Bertagnolli (21 receptions, 439 yards, 5 TDs)

Tackles leaders: Brock Johnson & Austin Tate (212 total tackles)

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Sacks leader: Kalen Larsen (2 sacks)

Interceptions leader: Austin Gottschalk (5 interceptions)

Alta statistical breakdown

Scoring offense: 26.7 ppg

Scoring defense: 23.7 ppg

Passing leader: Boston Handley (91-of-172, 52.9%, 1,111 yards, 9 TDs)

Rushing leader: Taylor Eyring (185 carries, 1,298 yards, 15 TDs)

Receiving leader: Ammon Barker (22 receptions, 412 yards, 6 TDs)

Tackles leader: Nik Wolford (133 total tackles)

Sacks leader: Weston Rallis (3.5 sacks)

Interceptions leader: Jacob Knowles (3 interceptions)