BRIGHAM CITY — Wednesdays at Box Elder High football practice are colorful. It’s not the red streaks lining the mountains, though, it’s the appearance of former and current NFL greats Troy Polamalu, Steve Smith, Eric Weddle and Odell Beckham Jr. at practice.
OK, maybe there aren’t NFL players practicing with the Bees.
But every Wednesday is Wear-Your-Own Wednesday and players don jerseys of some of their favorite football players, or in quarterback Parker Buchanan’s case, a pair of Golden State Warriors shorts.
Senior running back Bernard Peña was the one wearing the Polamalu jersey with ripped sleeves, and it kind of makes sense.
Peña’s long hair flows out of the back of his helmet and he plays with a certain intensity and drive indicative to his success this year — easy parallels to draw with how Polamalu played.
The Bees (5-1, 2-0 Region 5) have surged into Region 5 contention in a year when preseason ideas and guesses of how Box Elder would do were all over the place.
Peña has been at the center of it all. He’s the main running back (661 yards, 5.5 yards per rush, five touchdowns) in the Bees’ power run game and is a two-year starter at linebacker who leads the defense with 40 tackles.
“I’m like 5-10, 170 pounds. Not very big. I’m running between the tackles and guards most of the plays I get the ball,” Peña said. He paused, added, “All of the plays I get the ball,” and laughed.
They’ve won their last three games by a combined seven points with four total overtimes. That extra conditioning in the summer and at the end of practice? Worth it.
First it was a late touchdown pass to Nate Wheatley against Green Canyon. Then Keaton Lamb kicked a game-winning extra point in overtime at Bountiful after Peña scored in overtime.
Last week in the third OT, Peña scored a nutty touchdown and the 2-point conversion to clinch a wild win over Viewmont.
“If we have any more games like that I’m going to have a heart attack,” he said.
Last year, Peña wanted to start at running back but barely got any time at the position, instead getting the starting linebacker role. So every Saturday morning this summer for two to three months, Peña and his dad drove to the Mountain West Elite training program with the desire to lock down a running back spot.
“I’d go down there and go, ‘Man this isn’t going to do anything for me,’ and then I’m the starting running back. I’ve been doing pretty good every game,” he said. “And then Friday, I killed it.”
In that third-overtime play, Peña took a handoff to the left, stopped, cut back, practically ran the width of the field to the other side and ran in for a game-tying touchdown. That was part of his 212-yard performance that announced himself and the Bees as contenders.
“I didn’t even know what I was thinking,” he said. “I saw Conner Stevenson over there blocking for me and I had one to guy to beat, he missed the tackle and I went for the touchdown, and it was just amazing.”
Before the season, head coach Robbie Gunter said the defense would have to keep things in order while the offense found its step.
The senior-heavy offensive line is opening up more holes — bigger holes — and running backs are getting their timing down when the avenues open.
Peña’s 661 yards are complemented by Trent Dickson’s 401 rushing yards on 5.6 yards per carry. Gunter said the running backs are exceeding expectations this year.
“They’re getting the plays we expect — the hard yards — but then they’re making big plays,” Gunter said.
It’ll be a particularly jubilant set of sidelines this week when the Bees visit Farmington (1-5, 1-1 Region 5). Last week, the Phoenix won their first game in school history after starting 0-5.
Farmington beat Woods Cross 20-14 and, in the region’s murky playoff outlook, find themselves with a chance to be in the conversation.
Six games in, and the Bees are in step like a marching band.
WEEK 7 PREVIEW
Since 1971, the Lakers (2-4, 0-2 Region 11) are 9-0 against the Scots (0-6, 0-2). Last year’s 9-3 Laker win was the closest margin between the two sides since a pair of six-point games in 1970 and 1972. BLHS running back Zander Caffall has 238 yards and two touchdowns in the last three games. Bonneville linebackers Ryker Jensen and Josh Turpin have a combined 17 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks this year.
Weber at Davis
Weber and Davis feature two of the best linebackers in the area in Davis’ Max Tupuola and Weber’s Brandt Opheikens, plus good pass-catching tandems (Weber’s Hudson Schenck and Sione Moa, Davis’ Trey Baggett and Jack Rigby).
The difference is the Warriors (3-3, 3-0 Region 1) are flush with big, playoff-type game experience while the Darts (4-1, 2-1) really got their first taste two weeks ago.
Davis really needs this game not only for the playoff implications, but because it’s potentially its last home game of the year.
Syracuse at Fremont
Injuries have sliced through Syracuse (1-5, 1-2 Region 1) and hit particularly hard on offense. Meanwhile, Fremont’s (5-1, 3-0) been taking no prisoners after its loss to Pleasant Grove. The Titans have the size to match up well with the Silver Wolves and everyone saw how Northridge turned last week’s 28-0 deficit at Fremont into a 28-20 game in the second half. This should be a close game.
Northridge at Layton
Northridge’s (3-3, 2-2 Region 1) Colby Browning and Layton’s (2-4, 1-3) Landon Brant are two of the more exciting dual-threat quarterbacks around. That’s the first point of focus. The next is keeping emotions in check. This game has playoff implications for both teams, on top of the city rivalry. The Knights lead the all-time series 19-7 and Layton’s the only team Northridge has played every single year since it opened in the early ‘90s.
Roy at Viewmont
To be in contention for a third straight region title, the Vikings (3-3, 1-1 Region 5) have to hold serve against Roy (5-1, 2-0). It’s easier said than done. The Royals’ rushing attack is methodical, physical and successful. They’re a similar run-heavy team like the Box Elder squad that outlasted Viewmont last week. One of the Vikings’ downfalls last week? Trouble running the ball.
Tooele at Ogden
It’s rebound time for the Tigers (4-2, 1-1 Region 11). The only point of reference between Ogden and Tooele is Stansbury. The Tigers lost to Stansbury 48-14 on the road while the Buffaloes lost 42-21 at home. If Ogden falls Friday, its playoff chances take a serious hit with the Iron Horse Game against Ben Lomond and a meeting with a tough Park City team still to play. And, whoever ends up as Region 11’s No. 4 seed probably has to play vaunted Orem in the first round.
Emery at Morgan
Morgan (4-2, 2-0 3A North) has won the last seven games against Emery dating back to 1998. The Trojans have five players with multiple receiving touchdowns this year: Tyson Hurd (6), Adam Buck (4), Jack Cameron (4), Porter Giles (2) and Hunter Thomas (2). Quarterback Carter Thackeray has 18 TDs and 1,547 passing yards.
Bear River at
Region 12 appears to be one of the toughest regions in the state. That makes things hard for Bear River (2-4, 0-2 Region 12), which desperately needs a win to keep its playoff hopes alive, just like Mountain Crest (3-3, 0-2). Carson Day (seven tackles-for-loss, two fumble recoveries) and Carson Rasmussen (seven TFL’s, five sacks) form a good defensive duo for Bear River.
Layton Christian at Monticello
Get ready for the bus ride. Layton Christian (1-4) gets to travel 313 miles to the southeast corner of the state for its final non-region tuneup of the year. Dustin Moffo had 209 rushing yards last week, his second 200-plus game this year.