Previewing the Black and Blue Classic
Alta and Bingham have a flair for close finishes - sometimes to their own chagrin.
Hawks coach Bob Stephens still shakes his head thinking about last year's Black-and-Blue Classic - a physical affair that ended with a last-minute Miners drive to win. But he says his Alta squad is ready for another shot at Bingham at 8 p.m. Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"This game has a very special feel, like it's a playoff game," he says. "We know we haven't won in a while - it's in the back of our minds. But we're excited to play."
Bingham has won four straight matchups between the schools, and a 28-0 win over West Jordan could be an indicator that the No. 2-ranked Miners could be ready to maintain their dominance in one of Utah's most celebrated rivalries.
The heart of the team is undeniably the linebacking corps: Drake Miller and Durrant Miles are tackling machines in the middle of the defense. But the Miners do have some offensive line concerns, chiefly the absence of BYU commit Keegan Hicks who is recovering from an off-field injury.
Coach Dave Peck says overall, he's been happy with what he's seen, but the offense will have to step up.
"There are definitely no excuses if we lose - if they win, they're just better than us," Peck says. "I think Alta and Bingham, we bring out the best in each other. Both teams rise to the occasion."
The Hawks feel more balanced offensively than they were last season. Ammon Barker and Harrison Handley each went over the century mark in receiving yards last week against Timpview, and Chipper Lucero has looked solid at quarterback. The passing game combined with Max Broman at running back should make a fierce combination.
That said, Alta is replacing every defensive starter from last season. Stephens is still concerned with his team's ability to finish games - allowing a touchdown with three minutes to go against the Thunderbirds didn't allay those worries.
"We're mindful that we've lost in the first round in each of the last two years, and we want to change that," Stephens says. "We've got to learn how to finish."
Even though Alta-Bingham undoubtedly is the headliner, the 4 p.m. undercard could be just as compelling. Herriman will be taking on Riverton in a natural geographic rivalry, quickly fitting the definition of "classic" after a breath-taking final minute in 2011.
The Mustangs completed a two-point conversion in overtime that stunned the Silverwolves last year, but this season no one will overlook Herriman. The Tribune's No. 2-ranked team in 4A, the team returns eight starters on each side of the ball, featuring quarterback/linebacker Tueni Lupeamanu and running back Francis Bernard.
Herriman's coaching staff will be playing it safe with a few injured players, coach Larry Wilson says, but otherwise this game could be a brawl.
"Two years ago, this wasn't a rivalry - they kicked the hell out of us," Wilson says. "After last year, I think this is a true rivalry. Both schools are excited. We know it will be a challenge."
Riverton's Wing T offense should be up to snuff with plenty of returners, and the Silverwolves defense could develop into one of the state's best with athletes such as Albert Tai and Stratton Brown patrolling the field. Moreover, with more experience, this group is ready to strike back at the Mustangs for last year's defeat.
"We're as ready as we can be," coach Mike Miller says. "It's a non-league game, and the goal is to get ready for region. But that said, I think it's going to be more personal to the kids. They know each other, and they're pretty fired up."
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon