By Matt Harris | North Sanpete head coach Rhett Bird wasn’t keeping a secret about which game he had circled on his schedule.
For Bird and the Hawks, their home game tonight is a chance to make a statement they’ve been trying to make for years, but they’ve fallen short every time.
“When we go through the offseason, a lot of the teams that got us last year are on the back of our mind as we go through all of our preparation,” said Bird. “We lost two games last year.”
Of those two games in the 2019 season, one of them was Juab – a team they haven’t beaten since 2015.
The Hawks have a chance to stop the losing streak at five when the Wasps come to visit Mount Pleasant this evening. This will be a clash between the top two teams in 3A Region 14.
North Sanpete welcomed Bird, a 23-year-old former North Sanpete quarterback, to the program in 2016 as the head coach. He took over a team that, in its 104-year history, sported an overall record of 298-433-19. They had never played in the state championship. In five years, under the young coach, they made it to the big game in 2018, and just missed it in 2019 when the eventual champion Morgan beat them by a field goal.
The entire program revitalized and surged forward with the help of Bird and several mentors brought in on his staff. This includes current Bingham head coach Dave Peck, who coordinated the Hawks’ defense for a few years. He then decided to retake his job with the Miners.
And yet, the one boulder the Hawks have not managed to climb over are Mike Bowring’s Wasps.
Bowring, head coach at Juab for 17 years, may remember being in Bird’s position when he took over a program that previously went 18-25 in four seasons. But Juab has been rolling since 2003 and has appeared in six of the last seven semifinals. They were in the 3A title game last year and in 2014.
In their last matchup, both teams stepped onto the Juab home field as undefeated squads. The Hawks were the favorite. Against arguably the best team in North Sanpete school history to that point, Bowring flipped the script on the visitors and came away with a 28-5 victory.
This year, the game comes back to Mount Pleasant and a passionate North Sanpete home crowd. As far as who is the favorite, it depends on who you ask. According to Deseret News, Parry’s Power Guide holds Juab as the favored team by a few points. MaxPreps Utah state rankings has the No. 31 Hawks ranked four spots ahead of the Wasps. One way or the other, this game is nowhere close to being an easy prediction. The Hawks are, once again, undefeated at 6-0 heading into this matchup. They are the last unbeaten team in 3A. Juab stands at 5-1, their only loss coming against Salem Hills, arguably the best team in 5A.
With North Sanpete, it’s all about the offense this year. The Hawks have one of the best quarterbacks in the state in junior Landon Bowles. Bowles has accounted for a blistering 27 touchdowns to only two interceptions in six games, the third-best in the state and second-best turnover ratio behind Corner Canyon phenom Jaxson Dart. His passing yards lag with 1289, but Bird is willing to almost solely run the ball after a big halftime lead, and Bowles’ arm can rest by the third quarter of most games.
Bowles’ receivers are the envy of coaches around 3A. Seniors Magnus Clawson and Cole Mickel are tied for best touchdown targets in 3A with nine touchdowns catches apiece. The two are also both in the top 5 in Utah in that stat. Senior Brady Jacobsen also has six touchdown catches.
The North Sanpete defense has not been as strong as it was in years past. They are, however, doing enough in big games to keep opponents buried. Stats are somewhat against the Hawks as the second unit allows garbage-time points, but North Sanpete still fields the No. 2 scoring defense behind only one team.
And that team is Juab.
The Wasps are the opposite of flashy. They are defensive party crashers and offensive diesel trucks. Bowring’s defense eats offenses for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between. Juab has allowed a mere 12.3 points per game this season, and their secondary has five interceptions, two returned for touchdowns.
Juab gets the real damage done in the trenches as senior defensive tackle Dominic Davidson has eight sacks on the season, third in the state, and the defense has recorded 20 total sacks.
On offense, the Wasps are impeccably balanced, averaging 320.3 total yards per game, approximately 160 yards by ground and by air. Sophomore quarterback Alex Jackson has eight touchdowns to five interceptions on the year, but the Wasps have scored 15 rushing touchdowns between nine different backs.
There’s a good reason this preview is longer than any I’ve ever done. The little town of Mount Pleasant is primed to give us arguably the most exciting game in the state tonight.
Will Bowring’s Wasps continue to outmuscle the competition and keep the streak alive? Or will Bird finally get a signature win with the best quarterback the Hawks have ever seen?
It’s hard not to be biased towards the Hawks, who I’ve covered locally since the start of Bird’s tenure. This game is all about the unstoppable offense of North Sanpete meeting an immovable defense in Juab. The winner is whichever side breaks last.
Even though North Sanpete has only been good enough to hang with Juab in the last couple of years, it still feels like Juab has their number anyway. Both teams are battle-tested. North Sanpete ran up the score in routs against Grantsville and Richfield, and Juab pummeled 4A Cedar City made their defeat against Salem HIlls look manageable. Good lord, I’ve changed my mind on this about four times while writing this.
Give me the Wasps in this one. The Hawks may have some issues after barely surviving a 1-4 Delta team, and Juab is carrying tons of momentum. Don’t think for a moment, however, that these teams won’t be eying each other in the playoffs after tonight.
Juab – 31 North Sanpete – 21
Featured image via Daily Herald.