Like a raging beast, Juan Diego’s shadow looms large over the 3A playoffs. But one team stands in the way of another Soaring Eagles title-game berth – Dixie, a squad seeking recompense.
The Flyers were ousted by the Soaring Eagle 41-0 in the first round last season, but return with a vengeance in what will surely be a thrilling 3A matchup set to commence today at 6:30 p.m. at Rice-Eccles stadium.
“I’m excited,” running back Joseph Takau said. “We went up there last year and they kicked our butts. So the starters that played last year against them have a little fire in our bellies. We want to get after the team that took us out.”
The matchup, while far removed from a David and Goliath-like bout, still presents an assortment of imposing queries. For starters, how will Dixie stop Chase Williams and Jesse Springer, Juan Diego’s formidable running tandem who combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns?
“We’re just gonna keep an eye on them,” Takau said. “We’ve been overemphasizing our responsibilities. We do that and we’ll be able to shut down their running backs.”
Wide receiver Drew Batchelor, who sat out the last playoff game due to an MCL injury but is slated to return Friday, offered his own assessment.
“I would not be surprised at all (if the game turned into a defensive showdown),” he said. “Our defense has stepped up recently. If you look at Stansbury – 11-0, supposedly the second-best team in the state – our defense showed up to play that game.”
Indeed, the Flyer defense gave up just two TDs against Stansbury, a team that averaged 47 points per game during the regular season and had just ousted Union 60-26 in the first round.
“Juan Diego and Stansbury run the same offense, so I think that gives us a little bit of an advantage working from week to week,” Batchelor said. “We played this offense in the regular season too against Hurricane and Provo.”
Speaking of Hurricane, Juan Diego thumped the supposedly indestructible Tigers 38-0 in the quarterfinals. It was the first time in five years Hurricane had been held scoreless through a game, an imposing stat if there ever was one.
“We’re not really intimidated,” quarterback Blake Barney said. “We know they’re good and that we’ll have to play our best game against them. We know we have to execute on all cylinders.”
“For Hurricane, it just wasn’t their day,” Takau added. “Yeah, we have a different offense, we have a different look and we’ll bring stuff that Hurricane didn’t show. But I think we’ll be fine. Hurricane didn’t show up. Juan Diego did.”
The Soaring Eagle are the only 3A team remaining with a perfect record. To date, the highest score they’ve allowed is 19 and they’ve forced a total of four shutouts against opposing teams, including Hurricane.
“They’re a solid defense,” Dixie coach Blaine Monkres said. “They haven’t had a lot of points put up on them. But in the last few weeks they haven’t had the threat of a passing game put up on them either. You never know what’s going to happen.”
As for the northern trek to the University of Utah — a much larger stage to be sure — Monkres doesn’t foresee his players crumbling under the pressure.
“It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “We’re out of school that day. We’ll take the day to go up there. We’re not going to stay overnight on Thursday or anything. You have to put all of those distractions out of your mind – the weather, being on the road, everything you can’t control.”
A win gives Dixie its first title shot in 14 years, something Barney has dreamed about for much of his young life.
“My goal in high school was to win a state championship,” he said. “Ever since I was in second or third grade I wanted to win a championship. We’re on the right track right now. It’s totally possible.”
For that dream to become a reality, Dixie will need to execute its high style offense to near perfection. And it will need all of its receivers – Tanner Webster, Lukas Hildebrandt, Kyle Hansen, and Dakota Bair, among others – to continue making the big plays that led the Flyers to a 7-2 overall record.
And it will also need Batchelor (687 yards, 10 TDs) operating at 100 percent.
“Last week Drew was still a little sore from his injury,” Barney said. “I think he could’ve played last week, but (the coaching staff) didn’t want him to reinjure it. He looks back to normal again this week. We’ve been practicing and getting our timing down. I think he’ll be good.”
Barney, who accrued more than 3,000 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns during the regular season, is prepared to lead his team with another thrilling offensive performance.
“Last year we went up and played (Juan Diego) and it didn’t turn out as well as we’d liked,” the senior said. “Personally I played terrible in that game. So I want to go up there and become a better leader.
“Juan Diego is the giant of 3A right now. We’ve got to take them down.”