Prep football: Little drama expected in top divisions as playoffs begin

Many perceive both the 5A and 4A classifications to be a one-horse race, with Bingham and East both undefeated and nationally ranked. The Miners are averaging 46 points per game and flew by their 10 opponents by an average pace of nearly 35 points, while the Leopards also posted 46 points per game with a 31-point average margin of victory.

Neither team has truly been challenged, but, especially with teenagers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of reading how fantastic you are, which can lead to being blind-sided.

“You focus on the small things that lead to the big things,” Bingham coach John Lambourne said when asked how to keep his players focused on the first round and nothing else. “I think we’re experienced enough now, I think we’ll likely do a pretty good job of that. I don’t know if our guys pay too much attention to the whole thing, that it’s a foregone conclusion, because we know it’s not. There’s teams out there that can beat us if we don’t play well.”

Lone Peak, which secured the outright Region 4 title for the second straight year, appears to be the stiffest competition to the Miners’ reign. The Knights knocked off Bingham in the semifinals last year before falling in heartbreaking fashion against Herriman in the title game, so both teams are left with unfinished business. Bingham won its Week 3 meeting at Lone Peak, 42-21, the only loss the Knights suffered this year.

Fremont, with an explosive offense, is another challenger lurking in the shadows, as well as co-Region 1 champion Roy, which advertises one of the top defensive units in the classification.

East is currently riding a 19-game winning streak — the longest in the state — and hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent since falling to Timpview in the first round of the 2014 postseason. The Leopards are overwhelming favorites, but the 4A classification does feature more depth than 5A.

Alta, despite losing the final game of the regular season against Corner Canyon after squandering a 22-point second-half lead, is equipped with an array of weapons on offense. Springville, the top seed from Region 8, completed its second consecutive undefeated campaign in the regular season, and Olympus locked down its second straight Region 6 title.

East is also on the harder side of the bracket, too, with potential games against Timpview in the quarterfinals and Olympus in the semifinals.

Parity is more abundant in the 3AA classification. After starting 0-3, with losses against higher-classification Springville, Lone Peak and Alta — which collectively finished 27-2 — Dixie did not stumble once against competition in its own class for the remainder of the regular season.

“We started off a little bit rough — just speaks to the kids’ character. They’ve got a strong desire to be great,” said Dixie coach Andy Stokes. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Desert Hills is an obvious contender from the south, as well. From an individual talent standpoint, the Thunder feature the most next-level players in the classification, but the north is stronger than it has been in years. Both Stansbury, which surprisingly lost against Bear River in the season finale, and Tooele are legitimate title hunters, and Ridgeline could pose problems to many teams.

“If I was coaching in a different classification, it would be tough coaching against East and Bingham where it’s tough to win,” Stokes said in reference to more teams being in contention in 3AA in comparison to 5A and 4A. “I think this [classification], there are so many teams that have an opportunity to take a state championship home this year. It’s quite interesting and it makes it lot funner.”

Morgan has been the top team in the 3A classification all season, even with the meaningless loss to North Sanpete in the final game of the year. The Trojans are vying for their first title since 1997 after coming up one game short last season.

Juan Diego, the defending champ, however, is the scariest team right now. The perennial powerhouse is starting to gel at an opportunistic juncture, while Juab appears to be the biggest threat from the south.

Class 2A features a unique situation with four 8-1 teams: San Juan, Beaver, Summit Academy and South Summit. The Broncos, who fell in the first game of the year to South Summit, reeled off eight straight wins, including handing Beaver and Summit Academy their only losses. Summit Academy beat the Wildcats.

“I think it’s anybody’s game to win,” said San Juan coach Monty Lee. “I think if anybody overlooks anybody — they’re dead. I think it’s going to take a tremendous amount of focus. A lot of times in the playoffs, teams have a tendency to look past their upcoming opponent, and if that happens, I think somebody can get surprised.”

In 1A, similar to the higher classes, which feature several programs vying for redemption, Kanab is trying to find revenge for losing in the state championship last season against Diamond Ranch. The Cowboys have been ranked No. 1 the entire season, with their only loss against 2A’s Beaver, but Duchesne is a proven winner in the postseason.