by Matt Harris | When a championship football game is decided by a safety, two field goals, and no touchdowns, there’s a lot to unpack, but it’s safe to assume that both sides would be looking for a rematch.
This year, fans got their wish.
The 3A UHSAA State Championship is a repeat of its 2019 version as the once-again top dog Juab Wasps take on the undercard Morgan Trojans, and just like last year, the Wasps are on upset alert.
Morgan head coach Jared Barlow didn’t say his team this year was better or worse than last year’s champions, but he did say that they are different.
“We had a lot of new kids that started for us this year, a lot of seniors that graduated,” Barlow said. “This team has different strengths than what last year’s team had.”
Barlow knows that the Juab team he’s preparing for is much different than the one that his team upset last year. That game ended with a strange score of 8-0.
“One thing that Juab has done really well this year is play more of a scheme,” Barlow said. “Last year, we knew that we had to stop [the quarterback] and make somebody else beat us. This year, that’s a lot more difficult. They haven’t been as one-person heavy, as far as how they execute.”
Juab head coach Mike Bowring could not be reached for comment.
Morgan’s season started out rougher than most. The Trojans lost three different games off their schedule to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were then soundly beaten two non-region matchups against Bear River and Snow Canyon. They finally got it together with a 16-14 win over 4A Green Canyon in the first week of September. Two weeks of cancelled games followed before they loudly introduced themselves to the ranks of 3A with a 56-10 bombing of Summit Academy. Coach Barlow, the head coach of that same academy, said the team spent many of their first weeks working to fix their offensive sync. They were also getting new starters up to the challenge.
Now, the Trojans field one of the best offenses in 3A, scoring 44 points per game since the start of region play. Senior quarterback Ryder Lish is a dual-threat with 13 rushing touchdowns and 13 passing touchdowns to six different receivers.
On defense, Morgan has pitched three shutouts in six games, two of them against a tough Grantsville squad. The defense thrives on the strength of large linemen that plug up running lanes and make life difficult for teams that don’t pass the ball.
Juab’s strength in 2020 lies in powerful, downhill running. They also have a talented, disruptive defense that lives in opponents’ backfields. On offense, Juab’s run game has accounted for 31 total touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Alex Jackson has thrown for 15 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Three of those touchdowns came in an understandable loss to 5A powerhouse Salem Hills.
On defense, the Wasps wreak havoc. Led by future Nebraska Cornhusker Dominic Davidson’s 12 sacks on the season, Juab has recorded a monstrous 45 sacks over 12 games. The secondary has also nabbed 14 interceptions.
In the playoffs, while the Trojans have rematched a few Region 13 teams for expectant wins, they aren’t the only team doing damage. The Wasps took down the top offense in 3A with a 20-7 win over San Juan. They then held off the late-season fury of the Delta Rabbits, Utah’s 2020 playoff Cinderella. They won that game with a final score of 20-12.
As these two teams are warming up the bus to Dixie State, Saturday night will show just how much love was lost in a year between the top dogs of 3A.
While it’s fair to say that Juab’s playoff slate was far more of a test than Morgan’s was, one might’ve still expected that the Wasps would have been more dominant. Instead, it was a low-scoring stifling of San Juan. Then, Delta shockingly had a chance to tie the semifinal game with 20 minutes remaining. A beautiful interception helped the Wasps escape. Juab is a much better team, we think, than the last few weeks have looked. They are still the No. 1 team for a reason when thinking of what they did against a tough Region 14 schedule.
Morgan hasn’t gone against a 3A defense that is as stingy as Juab. The numbers don’t add up well for who is showing capable of winning matchups for the Trojans. The Trojans best and, perhaps, only advantage is their size on the line. To Morgan’s credit, this is where games are won and lost.
This game is an absolute toss-up, depending on what factors prove to be the most important. A shootout will be in favor of the Trojans, but I’m expecting another round of gritty, low-scoring football like last year. Juab has the edge on an old-school contest. With revenge on their minds and a number of go-to options on offense, Juab is more equipped to dish it out than what Lish may be solely capable of.
Score Prediction: Juab 19 Morgan 14
Featured image courtesy Deseret News