ST. GEORGE – Former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick made famous the catchphrase, “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” The Dixie Flyers can certainly relate as they prepare for their opponent in Friday’s 3A state semifinal game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Soaring Eagles of Juan Diego have lost only four games in the last five seasons (2008-2012) and own three out of the last four 3A state titles. Powered by an overwhelming run game and a stingy defense that has yet to give up more than 19 points, the Soaring Eagles have blasted the competition. And after an earlier-than-expected quarterfinal exit last year, Juan Diego will be hungry to get back to the title game.
The Flyers, on the other hand, are on the rise and are playing in their first semifinal game since 2009 when they lost to Springville in the 4A ranks. Mike Sharp was the quarterback that year and although Blake Barney was on the sidelines as a freshmen, most members of the current squad were still dreaming of their varsity days.
“It should be fun,” receiver Drew Batchelor said. “It’s a college football field, but it’s still (just) 100 yards to the end zone.”
Time flies when having fun and while working to restore a program to its former glory.
The present day Flyers have the chance to return to the state championship game for the first time since 1998, when they defeated Cedar for the title. And what better way to do just that than to knock off arguably the best team in all of 3A. It won’t be easy, but postseason football isn’t supposed to be easy.
Coach Blaine Monkres said his team is doing the best it can to prepare for the unique Juan Diego attack.
“It’s tough to prepare for that offense because it’s so totally different than our’s,” Monkres said. “They run the Wing-T and the option which is very hard to demonstrate in practice. You just have to make sure they have their assignments down on defense and they know their responsibilities.”
Linebacker Tyson Graff echoed the sentiment of his coach and said the defense can’t afford to make any big mistakes.
“We have to be very sound in our defense,” Graff said. “We can’t not fill our assignment or they’ll go for a big play. They’ll find whatever we do wrong.”
Despite the challenge of beating an undefeated team, the Flyers are confident they can counter the Juan Diego rushing attack with their own high-powered offense. Through 11 games Barney has thrown for 2,482 yards and 24 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Factor in his 1,041 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground and it’s safe to assume who Juan Diego will be focused on.
“We want to take care of the football when we’re on offense and not go three-and-out,” Monkres said. “I’m sure their game plan is to keep Blake on the sideline.”
Not lost in the anticipation of the game is the memory of last year’s 41-0 loss to the Soaring Eagles in the first round of the playoffs. While the teams are not exactly the same and the circumstances slightly different, the Flyers welcome the opportunity to avenge the stinging defeat.
“Last year left a bad taste in our mouths,” Barney said. “I’ve been trying to remember that all year so we could get back. We knew they’re good enough and we’re good enough that we could meet up somewhere in the playoffs. I always wanted to play them again for a chance for some revenge.”
The game between Dixie and Juan Diego kicks off tonight at 6:30 p.m. and the winner will advance to take on Spanish Fork in the 3A state championship game next week.
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