On Friday afternoon, high school football teams from 58 different schools will take the field with one goal in mind — advancement. On Saturday, six more teams will try and take the first step toward a state championship.
For thousands of seniors, who've dreamed of suiting up for the playoffs since their little league days, it's win or go home time.
"It's the culmination of seven or eight years in this crazy sport where they let you run around and hit people," said Northridge coach Erik Thompson. "It brings out a lot of emotion that you don't have in a lot of other sports."
In many respects, there's a buzz about today for high school football fans that is perhaps only comparable to the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament. It's an all-day excitement.
Starting at 2 p.m. with a 1A playoff game in Rich and culminating around 10 p.m. with the conclusion of 7 o'clock kickoffs at Timpview, Manti and Grantsville, there's roughly eight straight hours of prep football action across the state.
Thanks to smart phones and Twitter and several games streamed live at deseretnews.com, you can keep tabs on all 29 games no matter where you are.
On a localized level, Mountain Crest coach Mark Wootton wants his kids to experience the excitement.
"I always try to emphasize you work hard with the purpose of trying to get to the playoffs. When you get there, you need to enjoy it, otherwise the work was just that, work," said Wootton.
He said of course the pressure builds as you advance from week to week, but the first week of the playoffs is the most enjoyable, for favorites and underdogs.
For the underdogs there's a buzz about trying to pull off the upset, that's definitely the case for Wasatch as it travels to No. 1 Hurricane this Friday.
"It's not necessarily where we wanted to be, but it's what we've got. We're excited to go play them, we have nothing to lose," said Wasatch coach Craig Davis.
For state title contenders like the five ranked No. 1 by the Deseret News heading into the playoffs — Lone Peak, Logan, Hurricane, San Juan and Duchesne — today and tomorrow are all about taking the first step. All five have known since the summer they had a special group capable of winning a state championship. They've proved it throughout the regular season with undefeated records, and now they want to back it up with a championship.
"That's the mindset to get to the state championship this year, and that's what we'd like to do, but we're not overlooking anybody," said Lone Peak coach Tony McGeary.
The fourth-year Lone Peak coach admits his players are handling the pressure better than he is.
"The kids are enjoying the moment, and the coaches are trying to keep them focused," he said.
Over the past few years, San Juan has been as good a team as any in the state when it comes to winning and enjoying the ride at the same time. Tonight at 5 p.m. San Juan puts its 29-game winning streak on the line against North Summit.
When asked what's been the key to sustained dominance, coach Monty Lee very nonchalantly said, "If I had a formula, if I knew what it really took and I could bottle it and sell and I wouldn't have to worry about paying my bills every month. You just try and prepare your kids for just about anything. We try to be better today than we were yesterday."
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More previews online
Throughout the week, the Deseret News has published preview stories on every 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A high school football playoff game at deseretnews.com. While there, sign up for the Deseret News Grid Picks playoffs contest for all five classifications.Heady goes here