GARLAND — Early in the summer, Bear River and Mountain Crest’s football teams scrimmaged against each other twice. Bears head coach Chris Wise said it didn’t go well for his squad the first time.
What impressed him is how Bear River showed up the next scrimmage and held its ground with what’s supposed to be a big, physical Mountain Crest team that might go back to the 4A state title game.
“We’ve got good, hard-nosed kids who like to fight and battle, and I think that’s huge because anytime you have kids like that, you’ve got a chance,” Wise said of the Bears’ outlook in 2018.
The challenges facing Bear River this year are no different than other schools.
The Bears have a brutally tough region schedule, they need to stay healthy and concerns about concussions have resulted in a little less depth.
But the biggest challenge is internal belief.
“Right now at this point, believing that they are as good as I think they are,” Wise said. “(It) doesn’t matter what I know or tell them, it matters what they believe and I think if they understood how good they potentially could be, the shackles would be off a little bit for them.”
The Bears finished fourth in the region last year, but were a combined nine points in two separate games from taking second. They had a couple of missed chances against Sky View from potentially making a 27-3 game a lot closer.
So they weren’t far off last year, and the team expects to be right in the mix for a region title this year even with Sky View and Mountain Crest being expected to be at or near the top of the food chain in 4A.
“We gotta play a complete game, not just quarters at at time, gotta go play by play, all four quarters,” quarterback Bradey Brown said.
Brown is the team’s returning starting quarterback, inserted midway through last year’s season opener after Kaygen Canfield tore his ACL.
He threw eight touchdowns against 14 interceptions last year, a ratio that’ll need to be flipped around for the Bears to have a better chance in the region.
Wise said Brown hasn’t been named the starter, but he has been impressed with Brown’s leadership and willingness to coach the other quarterbacks he’s competing with.
Speaking of Region 12, Sky View, Mountain Crest and Ridgeline are expected to be just as good, if not better, than they were last year. Combine that with a likely rebound from Logan, and Bear River faces a tough challenge in the region.
“We’re not as big as the other teams, we’ve always been like that,” said 6-foot-6 tight end Wyatt Jeppesen. “I think we need to be on our best game every single game, because we’re too small to out-tough (other teams) and we need to execute every play.”
Both Brown and Jeppesen have a lot of confidence in the team based on its experience and work rate, but what’s it going to take for the team’s “shackles,” as Wise put it, to come off?
“I think just a little bit of success — just a little — and me pointing out that success ... showing them on film that they’re better than they think they are,” Wise said.
It’s not necessarily new, but last season the Bear River-Box Elder rivalry, a.k.a. The Battle for the Golden Spike, became the state’s most-played active rivalry, according to prep football historian George Felt. This year, they’ll meet for the 98th time, the longest uninterrupted rivalry in the state.
The track at the football field is new, having just been renovated this summer. That project also opened up a lot more real estate on campus for parking, which was apparently a big issue for football games on top of the daily traffic during the school day.
Key stretch: Bear River has four straight home games starting in Week 3, beginning with Bonneville and Morgan, providing a nice mix in competition, followed by region games against Sky View and Green Canyon. The deck is stacked in such a way that BRHS can have a solid non-region campaign and come into the Region 12 schedule in top gear.
Tough schedule: Bear River has the second-hardest strength of schedule in the area. It’s helped by the fact that region foes Sky View and Mountain Crest made deep playoff runs last year, but the Bears also face Juan Diego (on the road) and Morgan, last year’s 3A finalists.
Golden Spike-d: Last season, Bear River notched a 19-0 win over Box Elder, its first shutout victory over the Bees since 1999 when the Bears won 33-0.