Prep football: East, Timpview endeavor to focus on the game

After ineligibility issues, teams try to make it about what happens on the field.
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There were already so many reasons to tune in.

East versus Timpview. No. 1 vs. No. 2. New vs. Old. A 2011 rematch. Best running game vs. best passing game. Division I talent all around.

Then the unfortunate link between the two: Both will be long remembered as the powerhouses that were slapped with forfeits after playing ineligible players. The Ineligi-Bowl, if you will.

But by the time the two teams have wrapped up their game on Friday afternoon in the Class 4A semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Timpview coach Cary Whittingham hopes that's the last thing on people's minds. He says his team isn't too worried about it.

"I don't want to become involved in the gossip," he says. "We don't have any interest in people grouping us together because of the UHSAA stuff. Knowing this is a team we have to get past, knowing they beat us last year, I believe we're motivated in that way."

In another year, all the discussion would be about the on-field action. Much of it still is.

East, for example, is trying to reach its second straight finals. The Leopards have staked their hopes on a furious ground game, led by running back Ula Tolutau and quarterback Isaac Valles. A pass rush that has pounded most offensive lines this year and wrapped up a lot of sacks has made them the team to beat.

But East might not have been there if not for a UHSAA panel ruling that allowed them into the playoffs after it was discovered they had played ineligible players in their first seven games. The Leopards were on the chopping block, and the situation has left an indelible stamp on this year's team.

"Our kids are humbled and grateful for the chance to play, but they're playing with a chip on their shoulder," says coach Brandon Matich, who will return from a three-game suspension on Friday. "There are people we play in front of who call our kids cheaters, say things to them. In some ways, they're still being punished. But we're playing our fifth game in less than four weeks ­— we're proving that we belong here."

Timpview has hit some similar negative feedback, even though the team forfeited all of the games in which it used its ineligible player. It's been a cap to a strenuous year in which the program lost a decorated head coach and had to give up wins from last season as well.

But the Thunderbirds, like East, have tried to focus on their gameplan, on beating a team that stopped them last year. Quarterback Jake Lloyd is the centerpiece of a prolific offense that has accumulated 3,300 yards and 46 touchdowns through the air alone. With 6-foot-5 receiver Dax Raymond as a main target down the field, Timpview has thrown over a lot of teams.

But the Thunderbirds' defense, which has added some extra speed and playmaking this year, will have to be on guard for East's running game. Turnovers helped decide last year's contest, and it may be the case this year as well. When the game is over, both teams hope to start forgetting about the off-the-field problems that linked them this year.

"We always want to be out there every year," Whittingham says. "I'm proud of the way my kids haven't allowed themselves to get distracted by the drama. Our goal is always to just win the next game, and that's what we hope to do on Friday." —

Playoffs schedule

5A semifinals, Thursday

at Rice-Eccles Stadium

11 a.m. • Syracuse vs. Bingham

2:30 p.m. • Lone Peak vs. Jordan

4A semifinals, Friday

at Rice-Eccles Stadium

11 a.m. • Highland vs. Mountain Crest

2:30 p.m. • Timpview vs. East

3A semifinals

at Rice-Eccles Stadium

Thursday, 6:30 p.m. • Spanish Fork vs. Desert Hills

Friday, 6:30 p.m. • Juan Diego vs. Dixie

2A title game, Saturday

at Pleasant Grove High

11 a.m. • Manti vs. San Juan

1A title game, Saturday

at Pleasant Grove High

2 p.m. • Duchesne vs. Rich