It’s hard to go against those teams. You just have to be assignment sound. I’m confident in our kids, but that’s always a concern when you play an option team. —Corner Canyon's coach Eric Kjar
Highland (7-3) at Corner Canyon (10-0)
5A state tournament quarterfinals
Friday, 3 p.m.
Parry’s Power Guide: Corner Canyon by 12
All-time series: Highland leads 1-0
Coach vs. coach: First meeting between Highland’s Brody Benson and Corner Canyon’s Eric Kjar
Last meeting: Nov. 6, 2015 – Highland 41-38 in 2OT (4A quarterfinal at Highland)
The fact Highland and Corner Canyon are meeting in the 5A quarterfinals this Friday at 3 p.m. isn’t surprising. The way they advanced out of the first round, however, is very surprising.
Top-ranked and undefeated Corner Canyon didn’t have a close game all season, but against fourth-seed Bountiful last Friday it nearly blew a 21-3 halftime lead before Conner Ebeling rescued the Chargers by booting a game-winning 35-yard field goal in the final five minutes of the 24-21 win.
Highland, meanwhile, rolled past Wasatch 61-24 as it scored 33 points in the second quarter.
On paper, it seemed Highland had the tougher matchup but it definitely didn’t play out that way.
Which raises the question, is Corner Canyon still the overwhelming favorite to win the 5A state title? Not if it plays like it did in the first round.
“It was good to get the win and move on, but we obviously need to play a lot better moving forward. Gave us a chance I think to refocus a little bit too,” said Corner Canyon coach Eric Kjar. “I think we need to focus on what we're doing a little better, kind of dial into what got us to the point we were playing pretty well.”
That focus was lacking early in the second half as Bountiful scored 18 straight points in the third quarter to tie the game
After the rocky third, Corner Canyon’s defense buckled down in the fourth quarter and held the Braves scoreless. That defense, which ranks second in 5A in scoring defense at 11.4 ppg, faces a unique challenge in the quarterfinals against Highland’s triple option.
The Chargers haven’t faced a similar offense all season, but Kjar is confident in his players, particularly since his team has great speed to combat the triple option.
“It’s hard to go against those teams. You just have to be assignment sound. I’m confident in our kids, but that’s always a concern when you play an option team,” said Kjar.
In scouting his opponent, Highland coach Brody Benson noticed right away how relentless Corner Canyon is defensively.
“They hunt the ball well. They’re not flashy on defense, but boy they’re effective. They get the ball out, they force turnovers, they’re effective. They get 11 hats to the ball,” said Benson.
Highland is hopeful that its multiple weapons offensively can slow that Corner Canyon pursuit.
Tenifa, in particular, has rushed for a TD in each of the past two games and is hitting his stride at the right time of year.
“Siope Tenifa has really stepped up the last three or four weeks. Athletically he should’ve been doing that all year, but he’s starting to come into his own,” said Benson.
The key to the game will likely be Highland’s defense. This season against elite spread offenses the Rams have struggled, losing to Lone Peak 42-14 and Lehi 40-21.
Corner Canyon ranks second in 5A offensively, averaging 41.7 ppg and it might feature the best spread offense in the state.
Benson admits it’s been a challenge against spread teams, but added, “We’re definitely not going out there saying, oh, well, it’s another spread team.”
In eight games this year Corner Canyon quarterback Zach Wilson – who’s committed to Boise State – has completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 2,312 yards and 20 TDs. He’s also rushed for 670 yards and seven TDs, but he’s carried the ball just two times since returning from an injury that sidelined him two games.
Kjar said the Chargers need running back Tai Gonzales to pick up the slack in the absence of Wilson’s presence.
Highland statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 37.9 ppg (5th in 5A)
Scoring defense: 21.9 ppg (8th in 5A)
Passing leader: Cole Peterson (52-98, 53.1%, 897 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs)
Receiving leaders: Trayton Keyes (7 rec., 194 yards, 2 TDs)
Interception leaders: Trayton Keyes (4 INTs)
Corner Canyon statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 41.7 ppg (2nd in 5A)
Scoring defense: 11.4 ppg (2nd in 5A)
Passing leader: Zach Wilson (131-232, 56.5%, 2,312 yards, 20 TDs, 7 INTs)
Felts Facts for Highland High School
Head Coach: 2006-current — Brody Benson (97-45)
All-time record: 416-233-3 (61 years)
Region championships: 15 (1958, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1986, 1987, 1988 co, 1996, 1997, 2003 co, 2004 co, 2005 co, 2006 co, 2007 co, 2009)
Playoff appearances: 44
Current playoff appearance streak: 35 (1983-2017)
All-time playoff record: 56-38
State championships: 5 (1959, 1961, 1963, 1986, 2010)
State championship record: 5-4
Felt’s Facts for Corner Canyon High School
Head Coach: 2017-current — Eric Kjar (10-0)
All-time record: 38-19 (5 years)
Region championships: 3 (2013 co, 2014, 2017)
Playoff appearances: 4
Current playoff appearance streak: 1 (2017)
All-time playoff record: 5-3
State championships: 0
State championship record: 0-0