Both of Friday afternoon’s 1A football semifinal matchups at Weber State will feature one of the classification’s perennial powerhouses going up against a team trying to prove it belongs among the elite.
The first contest will see the defending champion Duchesne Eagles play a Parowan Rams team that has won eight games this season after winning only that many over the previous three years, while the second game will pit the runner-up from the last three years, the Kanab Cowboys, against the Milford Tigers, who hadn’t won a playoff game in the 21st century until last year.
Eagles head coach Jerry Cowan, who has won four state championships since 2006, is happy his team’s 8-1 record during the regular season allows it to be considered the top seed this week, but he feels that the race to the title is an open one at this point.
“When you get to the semifinals, you look across the board at the four teams that are in it right now, and there’s not a real favorite as far as four teams that could potentially get to the championship game and four teams that could potentially win it,” he said.
Concerning Duchesne’s semifinal game, it will mark the first time since 2008 that the Eagles and Rams will face each other at any point in a season, which is quite unique given the small number of schools in 1A, even if Parowan was in 2A for a few years.
Since going 7-5 that year, the Rams have finished above .500 just once before this year (they went 5-5 in 2010), but they have seen an incredible resurgence under first-year head coach Carter Miller after winning just three games in 2016.
“I’ve been telling the kids all year long, ‘You can’t go into any game hoping you win,’” Miller said. “Usually, that doesn’t happen. We expect to win, but, at the same time, we know that this is all new to Parowan. This is all fresh. We’re going to take the underdog approach as long as people will give it to us, because we have to earn the kind of respect that the Duchesnes and the Kanabs and those people have earned.”
While it’s been nine years since those two teams have played, the second semifinal will be a rematch from just a few weeks ago, when Milford knocked off Kanab 29-26 in a game that saw the Cowboys take a six-point lead after the first quarter before the Tigers slowly chipped away and won it in the fourth quarter.
“The Kanab game was really a big game for us because it showed us that we could come back and that we’re not a typical old Milford team that, once you get down, they quit," Milford head coach Thane Marshall said. “These kids, they’ve never quit on me yet. They always battle.”
Round two of these teams’ season series offers some interesting dynamics. While an experienced Tigers team (they’ve got a whopping 22 seniors) finished the regular season with an 8-1 record compared to the Cowboys’ 5-5 mark, Kanab certainly has more experience playing this time of year, as coach Bucky Orton has won two state championships since 2005 and the Cowboys have come up just short in the title game the last three seasons.
“This is what it’s about,” Orton said of the playoffs. “This is our chance to prove ourselves.”
Cowan said his team and Orton’s group need to be ready to prove themselves, even if they’re going up against teams with far less experience on this stage.
“You get some of these new teams like Parowan and Milford, they’ve got a lot to play for,” he said. “They haven’t been here, so their motivation is going to be super, super high. The excitement at the school is going to be super, super high, and that’s something that’s tougher on teams that maybe have had it. Maybe people expect us to continue to do it, but it’s not that easy. We’ve still got to come and we’ve got to be at the same level as our opponent, or we’re going to get beat.”