Prep football: Underdog teams find right mix of confidence, preparation

Prep football • Shaking off pressure helps in stunning higher-ranked schools.
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Headed into the fourth quarter, the scoreboard read 14-3. Highland was down.

But for the Rams, it never quite felt that way.

A field goal chipped away at Olympus' lead. Then a touchdown pass. Finally a touchdown run with only 19 seconds left gave Highland a win it somehow always felt was within its reach.

"I don't think we ever thought we were out of that ballgame, and we knew what we needed to do," Highland coach Brody Benson said. "I think it's just a postseason thing with us, that we're going to fight 'til the end."

That confidence and perseverance is a rare and highly sought attribute in the postseason. Every year, a handful of underdogs and lower seeds seem to fight their way deeper into the high school state football tournament than anyone thinks they'll go.

If there was a distinct formula for upset victories, brackets would be getting busted all the time. But what it takes seems to be something less tangible: a mixture of swagger, preparation and a little bit of luck.

Syracuse coach Russ Jones led his team into a matchup with Alta for a first-round contest and ended up shocking the No. 1-seeded Hawks last year. Looking back, he saw a team that didn't feel the pressure building up into the game.

"They were more at peace than gung-ho, I guess," Jones said. "We took this attitude that was, 'Let's lay it on the line and do the best we can. Let's see if we can knock these guys around a bit.' "

Lower-seeded teams usually have had at least one or two heartbreakers under their belts. They've been kicked around here and there, which helps them balance out some of the anxiety that comes with big games.

Benson pointed to defeats vs. Lone Peak and Bountiful that helped shape his team's attitude toward adversity.

"In some of those games, you could tell some of our kids were hanging their heads a little bit," Benson said. "We told them it doesn't matter if they score here, we're going to fight. And that's something you try to instill in them every day."

But upsets are not crafted all out of heart: It's at least equal parts preparation. Fremont was pulverized early this season as it struggled with injuries, but even the players who were healthy weren't always playing their best, coach Kory Bosgieter said.

Earlier this month, Bosgieter sensed more focus and more effort from his team in practice. The players were starting to buy in and shake off some of the pressure that comes with making the last two state finals.

With a 14-6 win over Hunter, the Silver Wolves are the only four-win team left in the playoffs. And they hope they aren't done yet.

"When our guys concentrate collectively, practice like they need to practice, we're a pretty good football team," Bosgieter said. "You've got to outprepare people. Then you can start beating good teams."

Twitter: @kylegoon —

Playoff schedule


Class 5A

Davis at Lone Peak, 4 p.m.

Fremont at Bingham, 4 p.m.

Northridge at Jordan, 4 p.m.

Alta at Syracuse, 5 p.m.

Class 4A

Timpview at Woods Cross, 3 p.m.

Bountiful at Mountain Crest,4 p.m.

East at Box Elder, 4 p.m.

Highland at Orem, 4 p.m.

Class 3A

Bear River at Desert Hills, 5 p.m.

Dixie at Stansbury, 5 p.m.

Hurricane at Juan Diego, 5 p.m.

Morgan at Spanish Fork, 6 p.m.


Class 2A at Hillcrest High

Grand vs. Manti, 11 a.m.

South Summit vs. San Juan,2 p.m.

Class 1A at Southern Utah

Monticello vs. Duchesne, 11 a.m.

Altamont vs. Rich, 2 p.m.