SYRACUSE -- A disappointing fourth place Region 1 finish a season ago couldn't deter the Syracuse Titans once the post-season rolled around.
The Titans disposed of Region 3 champion Alta, 16-10, in the opening round before earning a second road victory by blanking West, 10-0, a week later in the quarterfinals. As it turned out, it took league rival Fremont to slow Syracuse's surge toward the state championship game as the Silver Wolves held on for a 21-14 overtime victory in the semifinals.
Although many of the names have changed the Titans are widely considered a contender in the Region 1 race.
And why not? If there is one thing that has been constant about the Syracuse program over the last four years, it has been a defense that has posted nine shutouts and has allowed less than 14 points per game on average each season.
"I've always been big on routine," Syracuse coach Russ Jones said. "The junior class is expected to buy into the system and take over for the seniors. It's been the way we try to work things.
"It was a plus to go an extra three weeks (in the playoffs), especially for the kids coming up. Getting to the University of Utah is always one of our goals and it makes the younger kids want to get back again."
Jones, the only coach in the six-year history of the school, has a 32-24 record, which is especially impressive considering the Titans went 0-10 in 2007 when the school opened and played without any seniors.
Don't expect many schematic changes from the Titans. Apart from minor tweaks, Syracuse will continue to go with what has been working - a 4-3 base defensive set and a multiple set look on offense that attempts to spread the field and get the quarterback involved in the running game.
On defense, the Titans return five players that saw significant action a year ago. Along the line, seniors Cardon Malan and Landon O'Camb will be at defensive end, backed up by Jace Purser and Brock Brewer. Juniors Kaden Craig and Braiden Tovey will man the tackle spots with Aspen Naylor, Tyler Ralphs and Dallin Alofipo getting time.
The linebacking corps features Wyatt German in the middle with seniors Matt Kealamkia and Myles Naisbitt. Backups include Teague Vigil, Kiwa Mo'o and Hayden Barney.
In the defensive backfield, Jacob Garver and Diante Mitchell will play cornerback along with Jace Skidmore and Dillon Spencer. Koa Mo'o and Kavika Fonua will be the safeties along with Jordan Bush, Colton Chadwick and Trevor Olsen.
Although two-a-days will settle the starters at several positions, according to Jones, 'the offense is going to be right there (with the defense)".
Senior Brock Anderson will be the new signal caller after leading the junior varsity a year ago, but he is no stranger to playing under the lights. He was a key receiver for the Titans as a junior in addition to being one of the premier kickers in the state. Anderson will be backed up by Spencer Johnson.
Syracuse features depth at running back as Mason Woodward, Fonua, Naisbitt, Olsen and Kealamakia all figure to get their hands on the ball.
The Titans also hope to get some offensive playmaking from receivers Garver, Mitchell and Logan Chapman.
"(Mitchell) provides good senior leadership," says Jones. "He's a gamer and will come on the field and get things done."
Along the offensive line, Barney, Caden Call and Craig will vie for time at guard. Naylor and Noah Sorenson are battling for the starting center job. The tackles will be Purser and Malan with Tovey, Mark Blamires and Brandon Lancaster behind them on the depth chart. Seniors Kiwa Mo'o and O'Camb will see action at tight end.
"I think it's deserved," Jones says about the Titans' preseason accolades. "But it's a whole new season and we haven't done anything yet. You can't just rely on what your name is. It's going to be a dogfight."