Crimson Cliffs Ridgeline Football

Ridgeline quarterback Kaden Cox looks to throw the ball against Crimson Cliffs last week in Millville.

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MILLVILLE — Ridgeline will be playing its “one more game” this Friday in Salt Lake City.

While the Riverhawks (12-0) have approached the matchup with Dixie (9-3) as just another game, it is actually much more. The two will be deciding who the 4A state champion will be Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m.

“It’s kind of weird, because it has been business as usual,” Ridgeline head coach Travis Cox said Wednesday during an interview with The Herald Journal. “For as big of a game as it is, we haven’t talked a lot about the game itself. We have mainly focused on the opponent. It sounds cliché, but we are treating just like another game. We have tried to make it as normal as possible.”

The Riverhawks have been business-like the entire season, despite mostly blow-out victories. Ridgeline has averaged 45.3 points a game during its perfect run in 2021 so far. The Riverhawks have allowed a paltry 13.9 points a game. Doing the math, that is an average margin of victory of 31.4 points.

“I think we are a balanced team, but obviously our offense has had a special year,” Cox said. “They have kept us in some games and were critical in our last game. Our defense has done a really good job of being sound. I think we are a well-rounded team.”

Staying in the moment has been vital for Ridgeline. The school has never been this far in the football playoffs in its six-year existence.

Playing for state titles is nothing new for Dixie. The Flyers have not had success in their last couple of championship contests, but have been there. The last time Dixie played a Cache Valley team for the title, it lost to Logan 26-15 in 2015.

Ridgeline and Dixie have four common opponents from the 2021 campaign. The Riverhawks beat Snow Canyon (42-7), Sky View (35-10), Bear River (49-7) and in the playoffs Crimson Cliffs (49-34). Dixie, who has won seven in a row since losing to Desert Hills on Sept. 17, beat Crimson Cliffs (16-10) and Snow Canyon (42-14) during the regular season, and then Bear River (48-20) and Sky View (36-35, OT) in the playoffs.

“The kids may have looked at those scores, but I have not even talked about that at all,” said Cox when asked about common opponents. “You have always got to respect your opponent. Every team is different and there are different points in the season. Teams change so much.”

Both teams come into the title game after good outings in the semifinals. Ridgeline outscored Crimson Cliffs as already mentioned, while Dixie beat Pine View, 42-20.

“We will have our hands full with Dixie,” Cox said.

The Flyers are averaging 32.0 points a game, while giving up 19.7 for a scoring margin of 12.3.

Five players have attempted a pass for Dixie as starting signal caller Bronson Barben was out a bit due to injury. He is back and playing well. Barben has passed for 1,327 yards on 95 of 170 attempts (55.9 percent) with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Running back Seth Takau passed for 420 yards with six TDs and six INTs as he was the main replacement when Barben was out.

Eight different Dixie players have caught at least six passes this season, led by Derek Kesterson with 38 receptions for 355 yards and four TDs. Jakheo Mitchell has been the big-play receiver with 31 catches for 535 yards (17.3 average) with 10 TDs. Takau actually has the best average per catch at 18.5 on 11 receptions and one TD.

Ten different Flyers have rushed for a score this fall. Takau has gained 839 yards on 141 carries (5.95 average) with nine TDs. Jeffrey Christian (424 yards on 83 carries with four TDs) and Shea Anderson (325 yards on 55 carries with six TDs) are also athletes the Riverhawks will need to be aware of.

Defensively, Dixie has recorded 20 interceptions and 35 sacks as a team. Linebacker Treven Alldredge leads the team with 118 tackles and six sacks. Defensive lineman Cade Hansen has contributed with 10 sacks. Cornerbacks Mamao Tofi and Mitchell have come up with seven and six INTs, respectively, and each have scored.

“Dixie is really good on both sides of the ball,” Cox said. “Offensively, they have a really good quarterback that can throw it all over the place. They have some fast receivers and a really good back. They have the whole package when it comes to offense.”

The Riverhawk offense has been a nightmare for defenses all season. Kaden Cox has led the Ridgeline O up and down the field efficiently, throwing for 3,142 yards on 200 of 281 attempts (71.2 percent) with 50 TDs and just two INTs. That is not a typo.

Ten different Riverhawks have caught at least one TD pass from Cox this season. Wide receiver Strat Simmons has hauled in 56 balls for 965 yards (17.2) with 15 TDs. Fellow receiver Jackson Olsen has made 50 receptions for 980 yards (19.6) with 16 TDs. Running back Noah White has 29 catches for 341 yards and four TDs, while tight end Peyton Knowles has caught 19 passes for 248 yards and six TDs.

White has rushed for an impressive 1,599 yards on 194 carries (8.2 per carry) with 17 TDs. Landen Kimball has 245 yards on the ground on 39 carries with two scores. Cox has rushed for 180 yards on 34 carries with three TDs.

On defense, linebackers Will Booth and Jaxen Hollingsworth lead the team in stops with 74 and 73 respectively. Booth has four sacks. Defensive end Tanner Paskett has a team-best 10 sacks, plus 50 tackles, but is out with a knee injury suffered last week. Defensive lineman Bridger Hammond has seven sacks, while cornerback Dillon May leads the team with three INTs.

“That is the first major injury we have had all year,” coach Cox said. “Losing Tanner Paskett will be tough for us. We have to make some changes there. We are going to miss Tanner. I feel really bad for him.”

Ridgeline will adjust and rely on its offense like it has all season. The coach said the Riverhawks will need to win the turnover battle, run the ball and top the run. The Riverhawks will try and do just that on Friday in the capital city.

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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