The Hurricane and Desert Hills football teams are each going to drive 300 miles to Rice-Eccles Stadium for what amounts to a crosstown rivalry.
It's a bit bizarre, they acknowledge, and maybe a bit inconvenient for fans. But it's probably a good thing for the Class 3A teams up north to get a glimpse of the top programs from a region that looks to be taking over in football.
"I know we're gonna have a lot of fans come out for the game, but I don't think they'll be the only ones," Desert Hills coach Jake Nelson says. "I think there will be a lot of people who will go just because they're intrigued by a game between two Region 9 teams, and maybe they want to â¦ see what we're all about."
If prep football fans aren't interested, they ought to be. Region 9 programs have quietly been among the most competitive for years now. Snow Canyon and Dixie had much success in the late '90s, winning three state titles between 1996 and 1999, and many of the programs down south, including Pine View and Cedar City, are tough postseason outs.
In recent years, Hurricane has carried the banner for southern Utah football, going to four state finals in a row. Here's the catch: The Tigers lost the first three, all to Juan Diego, adding to a Region 9 legacy. The teams win games, but rarely seem to win the big one.
"There has been a lack of championships, and you can't get around that," Hurricane coach Chris Homer says. "But â¦ we play high-quality football down here."
Region 9's title drought is guaranteed to end this year, whether the Tigers or the Thunder walk away with the championship. It's been a good year for southern Utah football, as Cedar also made the semifinals, allowing it to play Desert Hills at Dixie State for a rare late playoff game in St. George.
If they weren't facing off, Homer and Nelson say, they'd be rooting for their rival to win.
Although getting big wins on the road is important for these sometimes-underexposed teams, they say the most important thing is beating each other. For the Tigers, winning a region title was more important than their win over Skyline to start the season.
While Hurricane was admittedly hungry for a shot at Juan Diego again, it's just as meaningful to have to go through a region foe.
"We always take a lot of pride in being region champs, and it's one of our biggest goals," Hurricane quarterback Taylor Parker says. "We want to show the people up north and the teams up north that we have some good players and we work hard. But we want to show Desert Hills that, too."
Breaking down finals teams' defenses
5A, 4A and 3A title games are Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium
Class 5A, 2:30 p.m.
Fremont (10-2) • Can the Silver Wolves' defense slow Lone Peak? Asked and answered. Seemingly forgotten is the fact that Fremont ended Lone Peak's season in 2002, in what turned out to be a defensive struggle. The Knights managed just 14 points against Fremont a year ago. Fremont has allowed the fewest points of any 5A team, despite playing more games than all but one.
Lone Peak (13-0) • The Knights' defense is a bit of a question mark. Speed is not an issue, and defensive backs Brody Berry and Micah Hanneman are exceptionally skilled. But Lone Peak struggled defensively against Northridge in the quarterfinals and couldn't stop Jordan last week. It has had success, however, against run-heavy teams.
Class 4A, 11 a.m.
East (12-1) • Vaha Vainuku may be the best interior lineman in the state, which creates an interesting matchup against Logan's D.J. Nelson. Teams have scored more than 20 on the Leopards only three times this season. Logan, however, put up 46 on them back on Oct. 19.
Logan (13-0) • The Grizzlies' defense is understandably overlooked by Logan's offensive firepower. But cornerback Johnny Luke leads all classifications with 10 picks, and linebacker Chasen Andersen is one of the state's most prolific tacklers.
Class 3A, 6:30 p.m.
Hurricane (12-0) • The Tigers' defense has been one of the most stout in 3A, allowing just 183 points. Before last week's semifinal win over Spanish Fork, Hurricane had allowed no more than a touchdown in its previous four games, including its 35-8 win over Desert Hills on Oct. 13.
Desert Hills (9-3) • Well, the Thunder have already passed one defensive test: stopping Cedar QB John Ursua. Safety Bud Pope had three interceptions in the 3A semifinal in St. George to lead Desert Hills' defense. Problem for the Thunder this week is that Hurricane rarely throws; the onus will fall on their linemen and linebackers to keep the game close.