KAYSVILLE — Usually, Davis High’s football program isn’t dealt a bad hand.
Granted, many schools would love to have the tradition, participation rate and facilities the Darts have, but the 2018 season had the makings of a 10-percent graded hill.
First, the team’s depth took a hit when Farmington High opened and when a couple other players transferred out.
Participation was already a bit lower this year — a 1-8 season in 2017 didn’t help convince fringe kids to try out, plus the growing concern over injuries leading many parents to steer their kids away from football.
Head coach Mitch Arquette took a look around, knew the only thing the Darts could do is try to win with what they had, and did it.
For turning Davis around from 1-8 in 2017 to 7-4 in 2018 with the school’s first playoff win since 2012, Arquette is the 2018 Standard-Examiner All-Area Football Coach of the Year.
“I think it started back last winter, we went right back into the weight room just a few weeks after the season ended and the boys knew what to expect from us, the level of work and the team effort that was needed,” Arquette said.
In the first month, they beat Bountiful, eventual Region 5 co-champion Viewmont and Region 1 foes Clearfield and Layton.
The 4-0 start wasn’t what gave Arquette the extra feeling that this year’s Davis squad was going to be pretty good.
It was actually what happened in Game No. 5, a 21-14 home loss to Fremont and the game that ultimately decided second and third place in the region.
“It was a good football game,” Arquette said. Then he smiled and laughed a bit.
“It was a great football game, it was fun, there was a great big home crowd, guys made plays on both sides and, you never want to take a moral victory, but that was in a sense a moral victory for us,” he continued.
Arquette, a Davis High alumnus, played college football at the University of Utah during the Utes’ BCS Buster era.
He learned from quite a few successful coaches: Ron McBride, Urban Meyer, Kyle Whittingham, Jay Hill, Kalani Sitake and Dan Mullen, among many others.
It was a mesh of coaching styles then, and it’s a mesh of coaching styles and ways of thinking now at Davis.
Arquette cited McBride’s personability, Meyer’s specificity on special teams and win-at-all-costs approach, and Whittingham’s proficiency at practice as just some of the things that stood out from those three.
Speaking of practice, Arquette says devoting more time to game situations in practice made a difference.
“That was our focus on a certain day of the week where this is all we did was situations, so that we knew when we were in the red zone, the high red zone or the low red zone, third-and-short, everything ... we emphasized that this year and it helped us be more successful,” Arquette said.
The Darts eventually had many things rolling in their favor, even after a 43-0 loss to Weber knocked them from contention for the region title.
They had good quarterback play from Garrett Larson, a matchup problem in tight end Jack Rigby and third-down, go-to receiver Trey Baggett.
Linebacker Boston Green led the team in tackles (96) after replacing Max Tupuola as the starting middle linebacker when Tupuola, a Division I caliber linebacker on track to put up some gaudy full-season numbers, hurt his leg.
The best of Davis’ season was saved for last. To get into the playoffs, defensive lineman Ethan Earnshaw blocked a potential game-winning field goal and the Darts beat Syracuse 13-12.
Two weeks later, they beat Hunter 27-14 on the road in the 6A first round when a David Spjut kickoff return for touchdown sparked the Darts.
If you thought the celebration was crazy at Syracuse, imagine Davis winning a road playoff game when it had picked up a reputation the past few years for choking in the postseason.