They play a different offense than we’ve seen. They have a great run game, so we’ve got to step up. —Manti coach Cole Meacham, on Emery
MANTI — It has been more than a year since the Manti and Emery football teams last met on the football field.
At the time, when the teams battled to a one-point Manti victory, they were both 2A teams and region foes jockeying for position in the state tournament. Both advanced but the Spartans exited after the first round while the Templars won the championship.
Thirteen months later, the familiar foes have found themselves pitted against each other once again, this time in the quarterfinals of the 3A state tournament.
“We know each other,” Manti coach Cole Meacham said of the matchup. “We’ve seen this team before.”
The veteran coach, whose team rolled through the 3A South region unscathed, is prepared for Emery, but said the Spartans bring a twist the Templars have not yet faced this year.
“They play a different offense than we’ve seen,” Meacham said. “They have a great run game, so we’ve got to step up.”
The Spartans are led in the ground game by seniors Marco Mota, with 1,131 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Ryan Cox, with 790 yards and four touchdowns. Mota leads 3A in yards-per-carry with 9.5. On the defensive side, Matt Mecham has a team-best 79 tackles, while Slayde Childs and Zach West have 71 apiece.
“Emery generally plays very physical,” Meacham said, “and their defense likes to pressure.”
The well-rounded Templars, on the other hand, counter with a strong presence both in the air and on the ground. Manti is led by quarterback Conner Aste, who has 1,035 passing yards and 12 TDs. Jared Schiess and Bradly Sego lead the receivers with 328 yards and 307 yards, respectively, while combining for nine touchdowns.
Meanwhile, senior running back Kamren Fowles currently tops 3A in rushing touchdowns with 18, rushing yards with 1,151, and carries with 150.
“During different games, different kids have stepped up and done exactly what we’ve asked them to do,” Meacham said. “I hate singling kids out because each night we just go with what is working during that game. One game, a kid might have 20 carries and then next, he might have four. We go with what we think will help us in that moment.”
Emery, which won its only football state title 26 years ago, is the No. 4 seed from the North. Manti is the top seed from the South, and looking to win a title for the second consecutive season, albeit in different classifications.
“At the first of the year, our goal was to win the state championship, but we said we’ve got to take it one step at a time and just play this game in front of us,” Meacham said. “We are in exactly the position we want to be in, but we still need to just play this game.”
Meacham, whose team is scoring on average 11.4 more points than it allows, added that the team’s main focus is to continue getting better at each practice.
“Each week, each day, each game, there will be setbacks,” he said. “The goal is to keep improving each day. And hopefully we will have a couple more games.”
Emery statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 22.7 ppg (7th in 3A)
Scoring defense: 29.3 ppg (9th in 3A)
Passing leader: Tai Justice (33-70, 47.1 percent, 309 yards, 4 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Ryan Cox (11 catches, 133 yards, 1 TD)
Sack leaders: Derrick Dawes (2.5)
Manti statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 33.2 ppg (4th in 3A)
Scoring defense: 21.8 ppg (6th in 3A)
Passing leader: Connor Aste (55-87, 63.2 percent, 1,035 yards, 12 TDs)
Interception leaders: Connor Aste (4)
Felt’s Facts for Emery High School
All-time record: 237-276-4 (52 years)
Region championships: 8 (1967 co, 1987, 1988 co, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1997, 1999)
Playoff appearances: 34
All-time playoff record: 19-32
State championships: 1 (1987)
State championship record: 1-1
Felt’s Factoid(s): Emery played in the highest-scoring state playoff game, dropping to Manti, 54-52, in five overtimes in a 1985 Class 2A first-round game. ... Coach Jim Jones starts his 26th season at Emery, ranking second in tenure among active coaches that have been at just one school.
Felt’s Facts for Manti High School
All-time record: 225-222 (46 years)
Region championships: 8 (1994, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2005 co, 2009 co, 2011, 2012, 2013
Playoff appearances: 28
All-time playoff record: 28-23
State championships: 4 (1999, 2003, 2011, 2012)
State championship record: 4-2
Felt’s Factoid(s): Manti is the only team — high school or college — in the United States (or anywhere else) whose mascot is the Templar.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.