High school football: East’s return to 5A means resumption of several traditional Region 6 rivalries

High school football: East’s return to 5A means resumption of several traditional Region 6 rivalries

After a four-year stint playing up in 6A for football only, East is returning to 5A this season.

Coach Brandon Matich says he has mixed feelings about the change.

East had a lot of success over the past four years, advancing to the semifinals three times and the championship game once. Matich believes this year’s team had semifinal potential again.

Whether it go tricky for East was the lower levels.

“Where we started to fight the fight was JV and sophomore, which week in and week out becomes hard number-wise,” said Matich. “It kind of puts us at a health risk, had to evaluate that.”

East’s departure is a blow for 6A, which really only has a handful of teams that can compete at the top, but great for 5A and Region 6.

Returning to 5A allows East to resume many of its natural rivalries with programs like Highland, Skyline and Olympus.

First, to be able to jump into a car and drive 15 minutes down the road to a Skyline, Olympus or Highland is pretty cool. I think our kids are excited. … Those are fun games to play, the student body gets into it more. Our student body wasn’t really getting into the Herrimans and Rivertons of the world. But I think they’ll show up and get more into the Olympus and Skylines and Highlands ’cause they know those kids,” said Matich, whose team posted a 36-15 record during its four years in 6A.

East isn’t the only newcomer in Region 6.

Park City is the other newcomer to the region as it makes the jump from 4A, and it’s in a great position to compete this season with a big chunk of returning starters from last year’s quarterfinal team.

Park City returns eight starters from an offense that ranked second in 5A last year at 42.2 ppg, including quarterback Chase Beyer. He and Murray’s Kyler Nielsen are the only returning starting quarterbacks in the region.

As Park City makes the jump up a classification, experience at the signal caller position could be a big advantage.

For region favorite East, a lack of experience at QB isn’t that big a deal, especially with Amini Amone back at running back. After rushing for over 1,900 yards as a freshman and over 1,500 last year, Amone is back to anchor the core of East’s offense again this season.

“I think he’s got a chance to be better than anybody we’ve had. His talent is off the charts. He’s big, he’s explosive, he’s fast,” said Matich.

Brighton, the projected runner-up in Region 6, has its own off-the-charts talent that most believe is the top recruit in the state, Lander Barton. The senior linebacker/tight end was a first team all-stater a year ago and the sky’s the limit for his potential as he tries to follow in the path of his two older brothers who are already playing in the NFL by way of the University of Utah.

Brighton coach Justin Hemm said Barton is still weighing his college options, which his included additional offers recently from tradition-rich programs like Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan and LSU among many others.

Hemm said he’s been impressed with Barton’s humble, focused approach despite all the attention.

“He’s special. Obviously he has all the physical attributes, but it’s more of who he is, how he treats his teammates, what he does around the facility, how he interacts with kids no matter who they are on the depth chart. Holds doors open for kids. It keeps things in perspective for him and allows him to have a great mindset and work ethic,” said Hemm.

Barton’s versatility defensively will allow him to play a variety of positions and give the Bengals a formidable defense on that side of the ball. The bigger question is offensively where the team must replace just about every skill position player from last year’s team that averaged 41.5 ppg.

Hemm is confident the newcomers will slide into those new roles seamlessly, which is a must with the quality of teams within the region.

“A lot of these teams all have some good stuff coming back and are consistently good programs, it will be fun. It makes for an interesting region season cause anything can happen,” said Hemm.

Olympus edged Brighton to claim the Region 6 championship a year ago, but defending it won’t be easy. Not only did the quality of competition get better, but the Titans only return three starters on offense and two on defense.

Two of the unknowns in Region 6 are Highland and Skyline.

Highland has a new head coach as Kautai Olevao takes over for longtime head coach Brody Benson. Skyline, meanwhile, has a new coach as well, with John Rowbotham taking over.

Both coaches inherit teams with a decent amount of returning experience, but both programs face an uphill battle to compete against the perceived top dogs in the region.

Olevao is taking over at Highland after serving as an assistant coach for the past six seasons.

“Highland has a rich tradition, it’s something that I’m very familiar with. My wife is a Highland alum. She was there when Morgan Scalley and those guys were there, so there’s familiarity with where Highland has been and what they’ve done and we hope to continue that tradition going forward,” said Olevao.

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