SYRACUSE — If the undefeated Titans are going to make their first state 5-A championship game appearance on Nov. 16, they have to go through Region 4 co-champion Bingham minus three senior starters.
Quarterback/kicker Brock Anderson, wideout/free safety Koa Mo’o and slot receiver/cornerback Jake Garver will each miss today’s 5-A semifinal matchup at Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Anderson will undergo surgery for a torn Achilles tendon in his right foot following the game. Koa Mo’o and Garver will sit out this week after each sustained a concussion in Friday’s 31-24 state 5-A quarterfinal-round win over Region 3 runner-up Alta at Syracuse.
Anderson, who had thrown for 1,850 yards and 25 touchdowns with only four interceptions, was injured on a non-contact play with under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Brock dropped back to pass and nobody was open,” Syracuse coach Russ Jones said. “He planted his foot to run the ball and it just popped.”
The Region 1 champion Titans (11-0 overall), who are making their second straight 5-A semifinal round appearance — Syracuse lost to league rival Fremont 21-14 in overtime last year — will play two quarterbacks against the Miners (10-2).
The quarterback duties will befall senior Spencer Johnson and sophomore Kole Tracy.
“We felt like it was better to go with two rather than three quarterbacks,” Jones said. “Spencer brings experience and leadership. He is a good passer. Kole brings size, speed and strength. He can throw it.
“They will both play Thursday depending on how the game goes,” he said. “There are situation packages for each one, depending on what we have called. We scaled down the playbook a little to help their confidence and they won’t get confused.”
Johnson has completed 3 of 3 passes for 17 yards. He has rushed for 26 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
“Everyone has to raise their level of play this week,” said Jones, who is 44-23 in six years at Syracuse and 69-50 in 11 seasons with stops at Viewmont and Woods Cross. “We’re not satisfied just making the semifinals. Here we come.”
The Titans, 7-4 in the state playoffs but 0-2 in the semifinals, were manhandled by Bingham 38-3 in the 2009 state 5-A quarterfinals at South Jordan.
“We’re just trying to find kids to fill in and take those spots,” Jones said. “It’s a good opportunity for some kids to step up and raise the level of their game. This is the most injuries we’ve had.”
Deondre Watson will take Koa Mo’o’s wideout spot; Trevor Olsen will step in for Garver at slot receiver.
“It’s going to be a big challenge and our senior leaders have to step up,” Jones said. “Bingham is big and physical. They are more of a run team with some big boys. They are bigger than us and so was Alta.”
The Miners, 44-32 in the playoffs with seven state titles, have outscored the opposition 90-13 in the 2012 state playoffs with one shutout. Bingham has won five straight games with its two losses by a combined five points.
The Miners are in the 5-A semifinals for the sixth time in seven years with a 9-8 record. Bingham is gunning for its fourth championship game in five years.
“We’re in the same boat they’re in with the short week. We gave the kids Saturday off,” Jones said. “We do a lot of walk and talk on Monday. We go through 7-on-7, work on their defense and any adjustments we have to make.
“Our kids feel good about making it back to Rice-Eccles Stadium again,” he said. “But we don’t want it to end this week. We want to go further and win our next game, which is always our goal. We want to make the finals, and once we do that, we want to win it.
“You always hope to have a season like this, but you don’t know until you start playing how well the kids will mix and the chemistry will jell,” Jones said. “The kids have been really good this year — on the sideline, off the field and in the community.”
Jones says there is nothing like getting practice reps.
“The speed of the game is one of the hardest things for our sophomore to pick up, just how fast it is. We’ll work on execution and fundamentals the next two days,” said Jones on Tuesday. “The kids have to come out and do their job. They experienced it last year and worked to get back there. It’s one of their goals.
“Bingham is the best team we’ve faced this year. Our kids can’t dwell on the injuries; go out and play,” he said. “If the opportunity arises, take advantage of it. The kids we have who are healthy need to step it up and raise their game.”
Jones thinks today’s game will be low scoring, which benefits Syracuse.
“We need good, sound defense,” he said. “We have to have ball security and execution in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams.”
Defensively, Dillon Spencer will play cornerback for Garver; Colton Chadwick slides into Koa Mo’o’s free safety position.
“There will be no wholesale changes. We’ll do a couple of new wrinkles, plugging kids into the two spots,” said Titans defensive coordinator Dayne Faerber. “Dillon and Colton each play special teams and have gotten some varsity reps, so it won’t be their first time playing varsity. We feel good about them. They have gotten reps and have to rise to the occasion.
“We are definitely outsized. Bingham has big boys up front and an efficient run game,” he said. “We’ve been good against the run. That’s been our strength, defending the run. We’re getting a test this week.
“We need to control the line of scrimmage, defensive line wise,” Faerber said. “We need to be quick to get off blocks, flow to the ball and be great tacklers. Without a doubt, we can hang with these guys.”