I feel like I need to go to Vegas or something considering the last couple of weeks. We've been very fortunate and I hope that fortune continues. —Juan Diego coach John Colosimo
At the beginning of the 2017 season, all 12 teams in the 3A classification had hopes and dreams of reaching the state title game and holding aloft the state championship trophy. For some schools, Carbon and North Sanpete, the dream was over before it began. For others, like Summit Academy, Juab, Grantsville and Union, the hope of winning a state title lasted a while, before being unceremoniously squashed in the state playoffs.
After 128 games, 3A football all comes down to this, Morgan vs. Juan Diego.
A better final matchup may not have existed, with all apologies to the Bears and Wasps. The matchup between the Trojans and Soaring Eagle makes for a title game awash with storylines and history.
You have the battle of rural (Morgan) vs. urban (Juan Diego), triple-option (Soaring Eagle) vs. spread (Morgan).
The two-time defending state champions, Juan Diego, against the team of destiny (Morgan High School has already claimed the 3A title in girls soccer and volleyball this fall).
You have a team in the Soaring Eagle that appears to have all the luck on its side, having won their past two playoff games when their opponents failed to convert potential game-winning two-point conversions.
"We've been living on the edge," said Juan Diego head coach John Colosimo. "Either one of those (games) could have gone the other way and we would have been out of the playoffs. I feel like I need to go to Vegas or something considering the last couple of weeks. We've been very fortunate and I hope that fortune continues."
Morgan (9-2) vs. Juan Diego (10-2)
3A state championship
Saturday, 2 p.m. (At Weber State)
Parry's Power Guide: Juan Diego by 13
All-time series: Juan Diego leads 4-1
Coach vs. coach: Juan Diego's John Colosimo leads Morgan's Kovi Christiansen, 4-1
Last meeting: Sept. 16, 2016 – Morgan 49-20 at Morgan
On the other side is a Morgan team that, per head coach Kovi Christiansen, "may be peaking at the right time."
"We played really good this last week and I hope they have the same mentality (this week)," said Christiansen. "Let's play better in this last game than we did last week."
Last but not least, you have recent championship game history between the two (Juan Diego defeated Morgan 28-13 in the 2015 state title game).
"It's always a lot of fun to get in the final game and finish out the season," said Colosimo. "We're excited for it and the kids are excited for it. We're looking forward to this game."
Of course, Colosimo is also well aware of the challenge his team will face.
"(Morgan) has dramatically changed their offense to something I haven't seen from them before. They run a spread offense now, throwing the ball a lot," said Colosimo. "They have a good-looking quarterback (Jacob Stephens) and some nice receivers. They are putting the ball in the air a lot more than they have in the past."
"It presents a different challenge for us. We have to prepare for it."
Morgan has been led this by Stephens, who has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns.
One of those touchdowns came in the Trojans 34-18 semifinals victory over Juab, when Stephens connected with top receiver Tyson Hurd for a 54-yard strike.
Another came against Richfield, in the Trojans 27-13 quarterfinal victory, when Stephens and Hurd connected yet again, for a 65-yard score.
"We can't let them throw it up over the top," said Colosimo. "Watching it on tape I've thought, 'oh my gosh how do we stop that'?"
"They have a really nice running back (Bridger Miller) in the backfield, as well. You can't ignore him," added Colosimo. "They're quite the challenge to defend. That's where we start. How are we going to defend this team? That'll be our point of emphasis."
The Soaring Eagle present their own share of challenges that the Trojans must figure out, the triple-option attack being the first and foremost.
"You just have to be super disciplined," Christiansen said of defending the run-heavy approach. "The one time out of ten where you aren't disciplined they can gouge you pretty good. You have to stay disciplined. We have to do our assignments every play. You can't take a play off or try to do something out of the ordinary or different."
The Soaring Eagle attack has been led by quarterback Zach Hoffman (over 1,000 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns), as well as bruising backs Hunter Easterly (921 rushing yards and 10 scores) and Tristan Tonozzi (1,063 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns).
"It is always a physical game," Christiansen said. "They are physical on both sides of the ball. They always pose problems that way."
"For Juan Diego to always be in the championship game, they're always solid," added Christiansen. "They just do things well. They do things better than most teams. That is why they've been so successful. We're going to have to play really well this weekend."
That goes for both teams, Saturday afternoon at Weber State University.
"We hope we can come out and play the better game," said Colosimo.
Morgan statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 29.5 (4th in 3A)
Scoring defense: 22.5 (6th in 3A)
Passing leader: Jacob Stephens (183-378, 48.4%, 2,338 yards, 25 TDs)
Rushing leaders: Bridger Miller (137 carries, 785 yards, 7 TDs)
Interception leaders: Jay Carrigan (7 INTs)
Juan Diego statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 36.4 ppg (2nd in 3A)
Scoring defense: 17.9 ppg (3rd in 3A)
Passing leader: Zach Hoffman (49-119, 41.2%, 806 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs)
Felts Facts for Morgan High School
Head Coach: 2007-current — Kovi Christiansen (87-40)
All-time record: 466-333-22 (90 years)
Region championships: 23 (1930 co, 1935, 1939, 1940, 1946, 1947, 1975 co, 1976, 1977 co, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1989, 1991 co, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2005 co, 2008, 2016, 2017)
Playoff appearances: 50
Current playoff appearance streak: 23 (1995-2017)
All-time playoff record: 53-43
State championships: 6 (1940, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1993, 1997)
State championship record: 6-5
Felt's Facts for Juan Diego High School
Head Coach: 2000-current — John Colosimo (175-42)
All-time record: 175-42 (17 years)
Region championships: 12 (2003, 2004, 2005 co, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 co)
Playoff appearances: 17
Current playoff appearance streak: 17 (2001-2017)
All-time playoff record: 36-9
State championships: 7 (2002, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016)
State championship record: 7-1