By Matt Harris | We’re at the end of a long, confusing, and sometimes frustrating regular season.
Every week of this season in Utah high school football, there was a game somewhere that wasn’t played. Outbreaks brought heartbreaks, and teams are hitting this year’s postseason having played anywhere between 6-10 games of their original schedule.
However, Saturday morning came, the final RPI rankings dropped, and suddenly all that matters is what’s coming up on Friday.
Here, we’ll break down the seeding and matchups for the first round of the 3A Championship bracket, and which teams are moving on to the second round. The 3A field is full of talented teams, and a few upsets would be no surprise at all.
No. 1 Juab vs BYE*
Juab gets the bye for the first round with the top seed of 3A. The Wasps might as well be called an undefeated team this year. Their only defeat came in a competitive loss to Salem Hills, the No. 4 team in 5A. Head coach Mike Bowring has perhaps the best Juab squad in school history with an average margin of victory of 28.4 points per game. The Wasps were stopped a touchdown short of their first title in school history last year. Don’t count on them to let another opportunity slip by.
*Juab was awarded a first-round bye due to the decision by 16th and 17th-ranked Grand County and Carbon to not compete in the playoffs, thus leaving Juab without an opponent.
No. 2 Morgan vs No. 15 South Sevier
Morgan, the defending champions, must have felt cursed in the early season. They lost two games due to the pandemic in the first four weeks of the season. Once the Trojans were on the field, they were dominant. They subdued top 3A teams in blowout wins. South Sevier looked easily like the worst team in the classification before picking up some late-season victories over Grand and Carbon. The Trojans are going to put this away in the first quarter.
Score Prediction: Morgan 56, South Sevier 0
No. 3 Summit Academy vs No. 14 American Leadership Academy
Summit Academy, the 2018 champion, looked awfully mortal in bad losses to Morgan and Grantsville this season. It looked like the Bears might struggle against quality competition. Luckily, they won’t have to worry about that in the first round. It only took a few weeks of the season for coaches to figure out ALA’s game plan and stop it. The Eagles will be able to score, but they’ll have about as easy of a time standing in front of a bus as stopping the Bears.
Summit Academy 48, American Leadership 6
No. 4 Richfield vs No. 13 Union
Head coach Ryan Shaddix has a historically good Richfield team at his disposal, but despite an efficient and talented offense, the Wildcats are not without flaws. Richfield’s only contest against a Top seven RPI team in 3A this year resulted in being crushed by North Sanpete. The Wildcats’ efficiency has to sustain against tougher squads. Fortunately, Union is not one of them. The Cougars have been exposed a number of times this season with the deficiencies of their spread offense. Richfield will be able to run up the score for the first time this season.
Score Prediction: Richfield 41, Union 13
No. 5 North Sanpete vs No. 12 Delta
Injuries and some unplanned adversity have killed North Sanpete’s ranking, but if the Hawks stay alive long enough to get back to full strength, they are easily the best team in 3A next to Juab. Quarterback Landon Bowles, a top 3 quarterback in the state, is expected to be back either this game or the next, but sophomore backup Tyler Allan is well-equipped to take care of business if needed. The Hawks have to be ready for the first round, however, as they have perhaps the toughest underdog to face in Delta. The Rabbits had a rough early season before they came very close to upsetting the Hawks in Mount Pleasant. They’ve been dangerous ever since. Look for this game to be competitive until at least halftime if not all the way, but North Sanpete has playoff experience to get through.
Score Prediction: North Sanpete 35, Delta 20
No. 6 Grantsville vs No. 11 Emery
Having faced one of the toughest schedules in 3A this year, Grantsville’s 5-5 regular season is almost more of a commendation than it is a concern. The Cowboys faced three of the Top 5 teams in the final RPI as well as the 2A steamroller Beaver. The good news is they knocked off Summit Academy impressively a few weeks ago. The bad news is they got embarrassed by South Summit just before that. The Emery Spartans are a tad underrated, having looked good in late season losses to Richfield and San Juan. Grantsville relies on playoff experience and the power of Blake Thomas in the backfield to chug their way through the first round.
Score Prediction: Grantsville 31, Emery 27
No. 7 Juan Diego vs No. 10 South Summit
As a late 2000’s high schooler, seeing a Juan Diego squad this far down the rankings is a sign of changing times. The Soaring Eagles have been a buzzsaw against inferior competition, but a rugged non-region schedule and a poor outing against Morgan means they’ll have to really earn their place this season. South Summit will be a gift in the first round, as Juan Diego clobbered them 58-7 earlier this season. Look for the Eagles to post a solid win in preparation for a likely rematch with Morgan in the second round.
Score Prediction: Juan Diego 47, South Summit 7
No. 8 San Juan vs No. 9 Manti
This is easily the most intriguing matchup of the first round. San Juan showcased the highest scoring offense in 3A, with a 2,400-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and a 1,000-yard receiver and averaging 42 points per game. However, San Juan also had one of the softer schedules in the classification. Against teams above No. 10 in RPI, the Broncos are 0-3. Manti was tested harshly in non-region play, and after a humbling loss to Richfield dropped them to 1-4, the Templars refocused on their long-respected gritty identity and powered through the Region 14 gauntlet, beating North Sanpete in overtime and looking solid in a loss to Juab. The Templars are senior-heavy on skill positions. Now that their linemen have become more cohesive, a defense that feasts on passing quarterbacks is going to be a nightmare for San Juan’s Jace Palmer.
Score Prediction: Manti 35, San Juan 28
For more state playoff coverage, be sure to check out our preview for the 4A Division.
Featured image via Deseret News.