High school football: Crimson Cliffs and Green Canyon will each fight for their first ever 4A state title

No. 2 seed Crimson Cliffs and No. 8 seed Green Canyon have two things in common: Neither have ever won a football state championship and both have a chance to win their first this week.

It’s not a shock that Crimson Cliffs has put itself in this position. The Mustangs lost to Desert Hills in last year’s 4A championship game, but this year they enter the championship game riding an 11-game win streak and boast a 12-1 season record, with their only loss coming in a 26-23 nail biter against Bingham.

Playing with its starters in the fourth quarter has been a rare occurrence for Crimson Cliffs this season, with the Mustangs’ offense generating 45.5 points per game and their defense holding opponents to 12.2 points per game.

However, Crimson Cliffs’ semifinal against Ridgeline was a different story, as the Mustangs edged out the Riverhawks 31-24.

Crimson Cliffs head coach Wayne Alofipo says the adversity was important in a potential championship run.

“Ridgeline was an incredible opponent and always has been. We have the utmost respect for that coaching staff and program as they coach the game right,” said Alofipo. “Coach (Jeremy) Livingston is a brilliant offensive mind and always makes me better.

“That was a much-needed game for us, that is only the second game all year where our starters on both sides of the ball stayed in every snap through the fourth quarter. It was great to see our team respond and a good wake-up call and reminder that everything is earned.”

Despite the amount of successes this year, Alofipo says he has no issues keeping his players’ expectations in check.

“Managing expectations has been pretty easy with this group due to the leadership on this team,” said Alofipo. “We have 40ish seniors on the team, and they have done a great job helping keep the team level-headed and grounded.

“The standard and expectations of the program have shifted year over year which is what you want and expect as a coach, so that’s been fun to see and watch evolve as well. I think our senior leadership combined with our coaches and how we approach things has made the biggest difference for us.”

While Crimson Cliffs’ championship appearance felt predictable, Green Canyon’s is a bit unexpected. Before this season, Green Canyon’s furthest postseason run was two 4A quarterfinal appearances in 2019 and 2021.

Green Canyon ended the 2023 regular season with a 10-3 record, but a 2-3 record in Region 11. While the Wolves haven’t won a football state championship, they have won two boys lacrosse championships, a boys soccer championship and a boys tennis championship since 2022.  

Green Canyon head coach JT Tauiliili said the winning culture of the school has bled into his football program.   

“I’ve said from the beginning that this is a special group and we feel like our 1s can compete with anyone,” said Tauiliili. “It took a little while for us to have that belief as a team, but once we did we felt like we really turned a corner and raised our ceiling.

“We have also benefited from championship culture in the school and community. I have kids on the team that are two-time state champs in lacrosse and a state soccer champion, so there is a culture of winning and we certainly took advantage of that.”

A highlight for this year’s Green Canyon team is its defense, which has only surrendered 11.6 points per game. The Wolves recorded three shutouts this season, including last Friday’s 4A semifinal win over No. 4 seed Park City.

“Our identity is defense,” said Tauiliili. “The success that Coach (Kyle) Johnson has created on that side of the ball isn’t by mistake. His staff puts in long hours to make sure the boys are ready. Defense carried us through the regular season, and it has done the same through the playoffs. We feel our defense is what makes us unique.”

Tauiliili said taking the season a game at a time has been instrumental in the postseason run, and his team will keep that mentality ahead of the 4A state title game.

“All season long our preparation has focused on routines and staying present one day at a time. Nothing will change for this week’s preparation,” said Tauiliili.

Green Canyon will be the designated away team against Crimson Cliffs in the championship game, which will be played at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday at 11 a.m.

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