Game Preview: Snow Canyon at Crimson Cliffs
By Rustyn Burnside, ESPN 977
Before meaningful football was ever played, the preseason poll would slate the Snow Canyon Warriors at #2 in the region and the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs at #4. We are far from deciding who Region 10’s champion is, and ultimately there will be the matter of RPI when the dust settles. But as of now Crimson Cliffs has the most victories in the entire 4A classification, and the Mustangs are looking like a legitimate threat.
The “stang gang” started the year with an impressive victory over one of Region 11’s preseason favorites in a 10-3 defensive victory over Green Canyon. The following week, the offense would rise to the occasion for a balanced 35-7 win over the Dons of Spanish Fork. Crimson Cliffs only defeat up to this point was in week three against 5A Timpview, a team who has yet to taste defeat, or even play a game within 15 points for that matter. But the cherry on top of a young 3-1 season start was the opening region win on the road this last week against Desert Hills. Crimson Cliffs scored first and was able to do enough to hold off any Desert Hills tying attempt behind a solid defensive effort and a stout passing attack on the way to a 21-14 win.
Steele Barben was 18/31 with 274 yards and two touchdowns including a 30-yard strike to Jordan Eaton across the middle for a score, and a 65 yard on the run bomb to Tyler West. Mason Topalian also broke the plane with a 5-yard plunge. McKay Wright had 13 total tackles, and Jace Sweeten returned to tally ten himself, with a game sealing interception to boot. Brock Baker also recorded a pick, and Scott Nisson had the lone sack of the game.
Crimson has only given up more than 14 points in one game this year, that being he lopsided loss to Timpview. If you remove that game, the Mustang defense is giving up about 8 points a game. Crimson is scoring about 20 a game on the other side. With the defense fine-tuned and Steele Barben near the top of 4A in passing yards with the talented Mustang receiving corps, Crimson Cliffs has reason to be a confident bunch.
If the Mustangs have shown a weakness this season, it is in stopping the run. In the 4-game old season, Crimson has given up 785 rushing yards. Only once (Green Canyon) have they held a team under 100 rush yards. A large chunk of that goes to a very talented Timpview team, but Thunder running back Tyden Morris was able to find paydirt twice last week en route to 133 rush yards himself. Take it back three weeks ago against Spanish Fork and the Dons produced a 100 plus yard runner as well. The average number of rush yards allowed per game for Crimson Cliffs is a fat 196.3 yards per game. That stat is clearly inflated a bit due to the Timpview loss, regardless you should expect Snow Canyon to do what they can to try and exploit that.
Speaking of Snow Canyon, they too enter this game off their first region win of the year. The Warriors traveled up to Iron County to play Cedar last week. The Warriors were certainly the favorite, but strange things tend to happen once or twice a year up in Red’s country. Thankfully for the Snow Canyon faithful the Warriors escaped with the win, snapping a two-game losing streak. Quarterback Hunter Johnson did not find much success against the Reds secondary but still played a pivotal role when it came to getting points on the board. Johnson would get the party started with a 5-yard run into the endzone. Then with the Warriors trailing at half, 10-6, he would bust out a 66-yard scamper to give Snow Canyon a lead they would hold onto the rest of the game. He finished with 191 yards and 2 rushing scores. Brooks Esplin would pace the receivers with 4 grabs and 29 yards. Teagan Hugh played a nice role with 45 rush yards and 29 receiving yards, averaging 5 yards per carry.
The determining score would come via the Warriors defense however, as Will Warner intercepted a Koden Lunt pass and took it all the way to put Snow Canyon up 20-10. The Reds would score once more on an interception return of their own thanks to Cedar star, Ammon York, but the Warriors would do enough to secure the win in the end. Tegun Whitehead would have 12 tackles and a sack, whereas Rockwell Jones chipped in 9 total tackles of his own. Ochoa, Nowatzke, and Oliver also got into the back field to create some chaos all being credited with contributing in a total of 4 sacks.
Snow Canyon has the talent and the pieces. They were projected towards the top of Region 10 for a reason. What they seek is not talent or ability, but rather consistency. Take for example their Week One 48-7 drubbing of Northridge. 48 points, six passing touchdowns, and a 41-0 halftime lead. The Warriors were looking lethal. Even the next week they traveled across the border and played Arbor View, Nevada. This is a Vegas school that competes with teams such as Bishop Gorman, so there was no reason to be ashamed when Snow Canyon lost 7-0 in the closing moments of that game. Week three was a hyped battle between 4A rival, Ridgeline. This is where the Warriors offense struggled to get off the ground in a 24-8 loss that would not see Snow Canyon score until the 4th when the game was out of reach.
Despite Crimson Cliffs being tabbed as the defensive minded team, Snow Canyon’s defense has flown under the radar this year and is very respectable in its own right. Even in games where they have the defense on the field longer than they would like, the Warriors still have never surrendered more than 25 points and have held teams under ten points twice in 4 games. On the year they are allowing 13.8 points per game. The offense is currently averaging 19 a game compared to the Mustangs 20 PPG making this a tight contest on paper.
Hunter Johnson sits third in the state when it comes to rushing yards and he does that as the Warriors Quarterback. Maybe a scrambling QB could pay off against a Mustang team that has struggled a bit more with a mobile passer? The Warrior’s receiving group is also legitimately good and are a ticking time bomb to have another Northridge type game. Jake Hill, Brooks Esplin and the like are one of the better pass catching groups in the state. The defense has risen to the occasion a handful of times this year highlighted by Whitehead and Jones and like they showed in Cedar last week, they are plenty capable of creating havoc in the backfield.
The Mustangs will of course, look to prevent any sort of momentum by jumping out to a strong start. This season so far has seen the Warriors go scoreless in the first quarter in three of their four games. The last three consecutive games to be precise. The one game Snow Canyon jumped out to a first quarter lead saw them run away from Northridge but in all totality the Warriors have scored six first half points in the last three games. Look for the Mustangs to come out of the gate swinging to try and disrupt any consistency for a Snow Canyon group who is trying to make the first half more productive.
This highly anticipated matchup will take place at Crimson Cliffs High School with kickoff slated for 7:00 MT, Friday September 9th. Catch the game on ESPN 97.7 and Varsity Sports TV. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @ESPN977 for all updates and news on Region 10 athletics, the Utah Jazz, Utah Utes, Las Vegas Raiders and the Golden Knights.