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SALT LAKE CITY — There are some very familiar schools in this year's 4A semifinals.
These four teams are no strangers to the turf of Rice Eccles Stadium. All have reached the semifinals more than once in the past decade and all four have won at least one state championship in the last 15 years.
East and Timpview are the only two teams returning to the turf from last season and once again they will face each other in the semifinals.
Both match ups feature intriguing story lines and talented players. Here is a breakdown of both games:
Highland (8-4) vs. No. 2 Mountain Crest (10-2) Friday 11 a.m.
Card-Turner had three interceptions against the high-octane Orem passing attack that helped the Rams go on the road and knock off the Tigers. Jake Lloyd QB Timpview
Lloyd continues to destroy opposing defenses. He was 16-for-27 with 288 yards and three touchdowns in the Thunderbirds 35-14 win over Woods CrossMountain Crest defense
Mountain Crest is known for their offense but the Mustangs defense stepped up big in their quarterfinal win over Bountiful. Troy Netzley and Gaje Ferguson each returned interceptions for touchdowns and the defense earned their first shutout of the season. They held Braves running back Jakob Hunt to just 64 yards, half his season average and only gave up 37 yards passing.Thomas Pembroke RB Highland
While Card-Turner had a big game on defense, Pembroke did the same on offense. He carried the ball 13 times but ran for 130 yards and two touchdowns including one for 63 yards in the Rams win over Orem.Preston Curtis RB/DB East
Curtis ran in for a score and returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown that iced the win for the Leopards against Box Elder.
Highland and Mountain Crest have a history.
The two schools opened the season for eight straight years between 2003 and 2010. They have met twice in state championship games and both turned out to be thrillers. A last minute field goal gave the Mustangs the title in 2005 while Highland shocked Alex Kuresa and the Mustangs in an overtime classic to win the state championship in 2010.
Now these two proud programs meet again, this time in the semifinals at Rice Eccles Stadium.
Highland seems to be peaking at the right time just as they did in 2010 when they made an improbable run. The Rams rallied from 17 down to defeat Olympus in the first round and then defeated Orem 34-25 in the quarterfinals, both wins came on the road. It's no secret what the Rams will do on offense. They will run the ball. Quarterback Austin Peterson leads the Rams option attack. He has 877 yards and seven touchdowns this season. The Rams also get production from Thomas Penbroke, Viliami Sekona and Adam Webber at running back. Pembroke scored three of his four touchdowns in the quarterfinal win over Orem. Pembroke, Peterson and Sekona all rushed for more than 100 yards in that win.
Highland is big and physical on defense. 310 pound junior lineman Bryan Mone is getting a lot of attention from colleges and anchors a stout defensive front. Luti Nonu leads the team in sacks with 5.5 while Malcolm Card-Turner and David Kocher have combined for 9 interceptions.
The Rams defense will be tested by the explosive offense of Mountain Crest. The Mustangs enter the semifinals with a 9-game winning streak. In those nine wins they have scored 31 points or more six times. They are led by running back Eddy Hall who has rushed 1,380 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hall missed the quarterfinal game against Bountiful with a sprained ankle but is expected to be back in action on Friday. His health will be very important to the Mustangs. Quarterback Jamison Webb has passed for 2079 yards and 18 touchdowns while completing 64 percent of his passes. After throwing six interceptions in his first four games of the season he has thrown just three in the last seven. BYU commit Faimafili Laulu-Pututau is his top target. He has caught 50 passes for 771 yards and 8 touchdowns. The Mustangs aren't usually known for their defense but that has changed this season, especially in the last seven games. They are giving up just 6 points per game during that stretch including two shutouts. One of those shutouts was against Bountiful in the quarterfinals. They held Bountiful running back Jakob Hunt to just 64 yards which is about half his season average. Stopping the run will be key for the Mustangs against the flex bone offense of Highland.
There are players on both teams who played in that classic championship game 2 years ago. This is sure to be an emotional and physical battle. If Eddy Hall is 100 percent healthy the Mustangs will be tough to beat on Friday. If not then a very physical Highland team may pull off another shocker.
KSL Prediction: Mountain Crest 35 Highland 21
No. 4 Timpview (7-5) vs. East (5-7) Friday 2:30 pm
It's not as storied and intense as that of Highland and Mountain Crest but Timpview and East also have a history.
The two schools have met six times in the playoffs and each have three wins. East beat Timpview 37-0 to win the 1996 4A State championship. East also ended Timpview's season in 2005 and the Thunderbirds returned the favor one year later. They met again last year in the semifinals with East winning 24-10. Many thought this matchup would take place in the championship game but due to sanctions both programs received for using ineligible players their paths cross in the semifinals.
East looked unbeatable this season until the drama of the UHSAA sanctions rocked the program. They had to win a play-in game just to make the playoffs. They've been without head coach Brandon Matich for their last three games. Now he returns as the team hopes to put the situation behind them and win their first state title since 1996. This team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. Isaac Valles has had a great season at quarterback for the Leopards. He has passed for 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He's been even better in the run game with 661 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Leopards will lean on the run game first with junior running back Ula Tolutau. The fast and physical junior has rushed for 1,180 yards and 10 touchdowns which has the attention of college coaches. Preston Curtis and Jewka Patatefa have been a nice change of pace at running back and have combined for 17 touchdowns. East can throw the ball effectively with athletic receivers John Fakahafua and Zach Swenson who have combined for 7 touchdowns. What separates East from other teams is their size and strength on the line of scrimmage. BYU commit Meti Taliauli anchors the offensive line and also plays on the defensive line. Defensively East has been dominant all season. Middle linebacker and BYU commit Patrick Palau is the leader of a defense that only once gave up more than 16 points in a game. Korey Rush leads an aggressive pass rush with 9.5 sacks.
The Leopards will need to get pressure on Timpview quarterback Jake Lloyd if they want to slow down one of the hottest teams in the state. Forfeits from UHSAA sanctions have resulted in a 7-5 record but the Timpview players haven't experienced a loss since a game against Alta in week 1 that came down to the last seconds. Lloyd has put up big numbers in the pass game all season which continued in a 35-14 win over Woods Cross in the quarterfinals. He is 4th in the state in passing yards with 3,300 and leads the state in passing touchdowns with 46. He has thrown just six interceptions. He has one of the best receivers in the state to throw the ball to. Dax Raymond has caught 65 passes for 1,260 yards and 20 touchdowns. Lloyd and Raymond have hooked up for seven touchdowns in two playoff games. They also run the ball well with running back Gregson Aspinall who has 842 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Defensively the Thunderbirds don't have the size that East has but they may have more speed. Pita Taumoepenu leads the state in sacks with 20. Ten players on defense have intercepted a pass.
Both of these teams have dealt with adversity and distractions the past few weeks. They have been tested on and off the field. The winner of this game will be the favorite to win the state title. East has been the favorite all season but Timpview has been very impressive in two postseason games. This game may end up being the most competitive game of the semifinals regardless of classification.
KSL Prediction: Timpview 42 East 35