When the 4A football state playoff bracket came out, Region 11 fans were hoping Ridgeline and Sky View would be on opposite sides.
That didn’t happen, and now the Riverhawks and Bobcats must play to decide who gets to keep their dreams alive of playing for a state title in 2020. Sky View (11-0) hosts Ridgeline (9-1) in a semifinal game Friday afternoon in Smithfield. Kickoff at Hansen Field is set for 3 p.m. and fans will be limited as each player is allotted just two tickets each.
“Roughly about 300 fans per team are going to be allowed,” SV head coach Christopher Howell said.
Both teams have been tough to beat this fall. Defending state champion Sky View owns a 24-game winning streak, dating back to last season. The lone blemish on Ridgeline’s record this season was a 17-14 setback to the Bobcats in Millville on Sept. 17. Sky View’s Kasen Erickson booted a 28-yard field goal with nine seconds to play that decided the outcome.
“That was obviously was a tough loss,” Riverhawk head coach Travis Cox said. “Whenever you lose, it’s not fun.”
After trailing 14-0 late in the third quarter, Ridgeline gained the momentum. The Riverhawks scored twice to tie the game and was driving again late in the contest when a fumble near midfield gave the Bobcats the ball. Sky View turned the opportunity into the late field goal.
“We came out of that game with some confidence knowing we played a pretty good team,” Cox said. “We played all right, but could have played better in certain areas. It gave us the confidence that we could be one of the better teams.”
In the earlier meeting, Ridgeline finished with 354 yards of total offense. Sky View had 219.
Both head coaches, as well as athletes from both schools, felt they would meet again in the playoffs. Many had hoped it would be for the title. Somehow Ridgeline, which had two games canceled, slipped to fourth in the final RPI after being second at one time behind top-ranked Sky View.
Snow Canyon and Pine View play in the other semifinal in St. George. Ridgeline beat Pine View in the season opener.
“We thought we would get another chance, as long as we kept getting better,” Cox said. “We didn’t let that loss impact us, just motivate us.”
The Bobcats have cashed in on mistakes by the opposing teams all season, and Cox pointed that out.
“They (Bobcats) will score in bunches,” Cox said. “You cannot make mistakes. You’ve got to hang onto the ball and score when you get inside the red zone.”
“We preach a lot about turnover margin and how that can lead to success,” Howell said. “We work hard on defense to create turnovers, and we work hard on offense to prevent turnovers.”
The closest game for both teams this year was when they played each other.
“They (Riverhawks) are a really, really good team with a ton of weapons,” Howell said. “They executed a great game plan on defense. They played us really well, and we expect them to do the same thing again.”
The Riverhawks are also happy to still be playing.
“We are really excited to keep playing and anxious to get back out there,” Cox said. “... We have really gelled as a team. Our O-line has gotten really good over the last month and that has allowed us to do some things.”
The Bobcats and Riverhawks have met four times during the regular season since Ridgeline opened its doors in 2016. The first three meetings were pretty one-sided as Sky View outscored their region foes to the south by a combined 118-13. However, this year was different.
“There are similarities amongst kids and the schemes,” Cox said. “They (Bobcats) are familiar with what we do on offense, and we are kind of familiar with what they do. We run some of the same plays. They might be a little bigger up front, and we might be a little faster on the D-line.”
Each team has an experienced quarterback, a strong running attack, good receivers and tough defenses.
“They (Riverhawks) have really good athletes out on the perimeter, and we feel like we do too,” Howell said. “We both have really good quarterbacks who can run, see the field and distribute the ball. We both have really good run games. I feel both teams are good up front, pretty complete teams for the most part. In the end, it comes down to your ability to execute and limit turnovers. The team who is able to do those things and be good on special teams, that could determine the winner this week.”
Howell feels his team has a number of strengths, starting with the offensive and defensive lines.
“We have really good linemen,” Howell said. “Without a good front, all those skill guys are irrelevant. You have to be able to protect and run block and then on defense you have to keep them off the linebackers.”
Being versatile has helped the Riverhawks all season.
“We feel we’ve been pretty good in all areas,” Cox said. “We try to take what the defense gives us, and we feel we have playmakers. We are a team.”
Leading the rushing attack for Sky View is running back Walter Collins with 862 yards on 132 carries and 14 touchdowns. Quarterback Kasen Carlsen has rushed for 450 yards on 100 attempts and scored eight times. Truman Moser had an “unbelievable JV season” and is now seeing time on varsity as he has 272 yards on 46 carries and four TDs.
Ridgeline is led on the ground by running back Noah White with 872 yards on 136 carries and six TDs. Quarterback Kaden Cox has eight rushing TDs, while running back Jaden Harris has seven. Miles Eck has rushed for 246 yards and a score.
Both teams have receivers who can also carry the ball in Isaac Larsen for Sky View and Jovesa Damuni for Ridgeline. They also have signal callers that spread the ball around. The Bobcats have five players with at least 17 receptions, while the Riverhawks have five with at least 29.
The Sky View receiving corps is led by Sam Thatcher with 25 receptions for 406 yards and five TDs. Larsen has 23 catches for 554 yards and four scores, while Titan Saxton has hauled in 22 balls for 252 yards and six TDs.
“One of the challenges of this team was having the ability to spread the ball around,” Howell said. “I feel like Kason has done a great job with that. Teams try and take Ike (Larsen) away, and we have other guys we can throw it to.”
Strat Simmons leads Ridgeline with 43 catches for 607 yards and eight TDs. Damuni has 38 receptions for 703 yards and seven scores. Harris has caught 33 balls for 515 yards and scored seven times. Evan Webb adds 30 receptions for 457 yards and six TDs.
“We pride ourselves on spreading the ball around, but obviously Jovesa (Damuni) is a special, special talent and we try to get him the ball,” Cox said. “If teams try to take him away, we will go somewhere else. Jaden (Harris) has been unreal for us.”
Kaden Cox has thrown for 2,663 yards, completing 190 of 273 attempts for 30 TDs and six interceptions. Three of those picks came last week in the quarterfinals.
Carlsen has passed for 2,172 yards on 137 of 224 attempts with 22 TDs and five INTs.
The lowest output scoring wise this season by both schools was when they played each other. For the season, Ridgeline is averaging 40.8 points a game, while giving up 20.0. Sky View averages 38.0 points a game and allows 12.6. The Bobcats have shut out two opponents and, over the last five games, given up an average of 10.0 points.
Both teams have proven they can put up points and in a hurry. Ridgeline has scored 64 in a contest, while Sky View has put up a season-best 54 points.
Linebacker Hunter Lewis leads the Bobcats with 121 tackles, including a team-best five sacks. He also has two interceptions. Collins, who also plays linebacker, has 65 stops, while safety Cole Watterson has 60. Larsen has four INTs.
“He (Lewis) is one of the best linebackers I’ve ever coached,” Howell said. “When we grade film, he seems to be in on every single play. He makes plays when he gets there. We ask him to do a lot.”
Harris leads Ridgeline with 71 tackles, including seven for loss. Simmons has three INTs. Linebacker Jaxen Hollingsworth has 45 stops.
“I think our defense has played pretty well for the most part,” Cox said. “We struggled last week in tackling, but Park City was unreal with some good running backs. We feel the strength of our defense is we are pretty fast, not the biggest, but can fly around and get to the ball.”
Howell listed offensive lineman Daxxon Dehek, Watterson, offensive center Tyrus Mcphie and receiver Trey Nyman as players who have been pleasant surprises this season. Cox noted that linebacker Branson Jones, Simmons on defense, Hollingsworth and offensive linemen Jake Alles and Alex Lundahl as his pleasant surprises.