SYRACUSE — A year ago, he was just a spectator watching the “Titans Express” chug into the state 5-A semifinals.
Now, Kavika Fonua is excited to be back playing while making a significant contribution for undefeated Syracuse High, which captured the Region 1 football title for the first time in school history.
The Titans (9-0 overall) — the lone unbeaten team in the 5-A ranks — play Viewmont (2-8), the fourth-place team from Region 2, in today’s state 5-A playoffs.
Syracuse has been in the playoffs five of its six years with a 5-4 record. The Titans are also 2-0 in home-field playoff games.
“Viewmont throws the ball a lot. Getting our coverages right and where they need to be has been our focus,” said Fonua, a junior strong safety/tailback. He also is on kickoff and punt returns.
“It’s tiring, but it’s fun,” said the 17-year-old Fonua. “I don’t come out at all on defense, and when I get a breather, it’s on offense.”
Syracuse hasn’t played since Oct. 12, a 31-7 Region 1 road romp over winless Weber at Earl Jones Field.
“We had Thursday and Friday (Oct. 18 and 19) off,” Fonua said. “It was good to have a couple of days off and rest up. We needed to take care of our bumps and bruises and get ready for the first playoff game.
“You can’t underestimate anybody and we’re taking Viewmont seriously. I’ve never played them,” he said. “We have to have solid defense all game long with no mistakes, like turnovers and penalties. Viewmont will be our biggest test in the passing game. We need to score on every offensive drive.”
The series is tied 2-2 with Syracuse — on a two-game winning streak — dominating the last meeting 28-10 on Sept. 3, 2010, in a Region 1 game at Syracuse.
Fonua broke his collarbone in Week 5 of the 2011 season versus Davis in a JV game. He was playing special teams on varsity prior to his season-ending injury.
“I fell on it funny after tackling a guy in the Davis game. It knocked me out for the rest of the season,” he said. “It was horrible not being able to play, especially in the playoffs, but I still supported my teammates on the sideline.
“I just had to wait until my collarbone healed,” Fonua said. “It was just a freak injury.”
Fonua has 68 tackles and ranks second on the team with three interceptions. He has rushed for 300 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. Fonua also has 12 receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
“I knew I was going to play this year; I had a role to play. I had to step it up,” he said. “I like playing defense better because I get to hit people. But I need to play offense and help out my team. I get about 10 touches a game and I need to make them productive.”
The Titans allow only 7.77 points per game with three shutouts.
No team has scored more than 14 points against Syracuse with the Titans outscoring the opposition 77-15 in their last two games.
“Practice has been good despite the rain,” said Fonua on Tuesday.
“We have a good offense and a good defense and great coaches. Most of us have grown up together and played football together, so that’s helped.
“We’re all good friends on and off the field,” he said. “Having good chemistry and good coaches are important. My role is stopping my guy, playing as a team and working together.”
Senior quarterback Brock Anderson, who played wideout last year, has completed 115 of 168 passes for 1,469 yards and 20 touchdowns with just one interception. He has rushed for 339 yards and four touchdowns on 80 carries. Anderson also has kicked six field goals this year.
Senior tailback Mason Woodward has rushed for 599 yards and six touchdowns on 135 carries.
Senior wideout Diante Mitchell has 28 receptions for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Fellow senior Kiwa Mo’o is at 23-361—5 and senior slot receiver Jake Garver is at 21-309—3.
“We have a lot of chemistry on defense and we have each other’s back,” Fonua said. “The 4-3 is a good fit for the players we have, and our coaches have a solid offensive and defensive scheme each week.
“We still haven’t reached our potential yet. We’re hoping that comes in the next four weeks,” he said. “We’re taking it one step at a time in the playoffs, and hopefully, make it to the state championship game.
“We were this close last year (a 21-14 overtime loss to Fremont in the 5-A semifinals at Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium). It’s a game of inches.
“That gave us a lot of incentive to get to the state championship game, which has been one of our goals since this season started,” Fonua said.
“All we can do is keep winning. We have to keep up what we’ve been doing, not get too cocky and stay humble.”
Fonua was undecided on which way today’s game would go with the weather being the wild card.
“It could be either a high-scoring game or a low-scoring game depending on how we play,” he said. “We have to come out strong. We’ll be good to go Friday. We have been watching a lot of film to prepare us.”
• Week 11 notes: Box Elder is making its 56th playoff appearance, followed by Davis and Morgan at 45.
The Darts have 59 postseason victories and the Trojans 46. Morgan is making its 18th consecutive playoff appearance, a streak that started in 1995. ... Box Elder-Maple Mountain is a first-time meeting.