High school football: 4A championship preview

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Highland Rams (9-4) vs. Mountain Crest Mustangs (10-2), 6:30 p.m.

State Titles

  • Mountain Crest 3 (2005, 2001, 1987)
  • Highland 4 (1986, 1963, 1961, 1959)

Last Meeting: August 20th, 2010
Mountain Crest won 28-14

Mountain Crest and Highland won't have to spend too much time watching game film. They know each other well.

These two teams have met in the season opener every season since 2003. They have also met twice in the postseason. Last year the Mustangs ended the Rams season in the quarterfinals. The two schools also met in the 2005 4A state championship, a game the Mustangs won with a field goal in the final minute.

"We know a lot about them," said Mountain Crest quarterback Alex Kuresa. "It's definitely a rivalry".

The Mustangs already defeated the Rams 28-14 in the season opener but a lot has changed since then.

"We're peaking at the right time definitely," says Highland head coach Brody Benson. "We had some ups and downs in the middle of the season but it's not where you begin it's where you finish."

The Rams were struggling with inconsistency in the first half of the season. Since junior Anthony Smithson became the starting quarterback in week 6 they have been a different team. Smithson has been outstanding running the triple option and in just half a season has rushed for 648 yards and eight touchdowns, which includes 170 yards, and two touchdowns against Springville in the semifinal. He has also had success throwing the ball for 1,467 yards and 15 touchdowns. The offense has also been aided by the emergence of running back Sione Houma. He has rushed for 500 yards and 5 touchdowns in the last two games.

Defensively the Rams are led by Idaho commit Desmond Collins who has 10.5 sacks and Utah commit Nate Fakahafua who has 15.5 sacks. Fakahafua is also the Rams leading receiver on offense with 48 receptions for 1,151 yards and 14 touchdowns.

"At the beginning of the season a lot of people were doubting us saying we wouldn't make it this far," says Fakahafua. "To bring one home we can prove to those people out there that they were wrong and that this team really has heart."

The Rams pass rush will have their hands full containing the all-time leading passer in Utah history. BYU-bound quarterback Alex Kuresa has re-written the record book during his four years as the starting quarterback at Mountain Crest. The only accomplishment missing from his resume at this level is a state championship. He willed his team to victory in a classic semifinal battle with Bountiful passing for 444 yards and four touchdowns and running for two more scores. Now he and his teammates prepare for their first state championship appearance after falling short in the semifinals the previous three seasons.

"We always think we are going to win." said Kuresa after the dramatic win over Bountiful. "We're going to win. That's the mentality we have. That's why we win."

Kuresa leads the state with 3.690 yards and 36 touchdowns and leads an offense that averages 40 points per game. He has several weapons including receiver Troy Pickett who has caught 82 passes for 1,171 yards and 14 touchdowns. Defensively the Mustangs have held their opponents to under 20 points per game.

They watched Highland dismantle Springville on Friday and know that the team they will face in the championship game is not the same team they beat in week one.

"Both teams are playing pretty well right now," says Mountain Crest head coach Mark Wootton. "It's going to be a fun game to watch."

Final analysis: Both teams are going to score points. It may come down to which team can get more stops defensively and force turnovers. This game presents two contrasting styles with the triple option attack of Highland and the spread offense of Mountain Crest that relies on the arm of Kuresa who threw the ball 55 times against Bountiful. This game is very difficult to predict and looks to be a very even matchup. It may come down to the experience of Kuresa. It's tough to bet against him when you consider his body of work.

Prediction: Mountain Crest 45 Highland 42

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High SchoolSports
Jeremiah Jensen sports reporter


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