ROY — The Royals are still in it.
On Friday at 11 a.m., Roy High takes on Skyridge in the 5A state football semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Roy hasn’t been to the semifinals since its fabled 2014 playoff run.
Here’s a few things to watch for Friday’s game, as well as ticket and parking information.
A return and a maiden trip to Rice-Eccles
Friday’s semifinal will be just the Royals’ fourth state semifinal appearance since 1973. This time around, it’s been four years since Roy last graced the turf.
A lot of the coaching staff was there in 2014 for a semifinal shutout over Corner Canyon and a championship loss to Timpview. None of the current players were on the team then. So how do you prepare them for a different environment?
“It’s just football ... the field dimensions are the same and we’re just going to play them like we’re going to play any other game,” head coach Fred Fernandes said.
Some of the players, like senior linebacker Levi Conley, remember going to the 2014 semifinal as eighth graders and just being in the loop about the football team in general. For all the players, this will be their maiden game at RES.
“I doesn’t even feel real to be honest, just to be at Rice-Eccles and to be able to play where I was watching four years ago ... is pretty cool,” Conley said.
The other hallmark of the 2014 playoff run was Roy’s big crowds. As of Wednesday evening, the first batch of 500 Roy High student tickets had been sold with another 500 on the way Thursday.
There are kids like Kyrese Rowan, who watched the 2014 team and envisioned himself on that field years down the road. Excitement is high. Like, really high.
“It’s crazy, it hasn’t even registered in my mind that we are playing at Rice-Eccles and we’re going to be on that field. It’s our time now,” said Rowan, who also went to the 2014 championship game as an eighth grader.
One factor in the game is the weather. It’ll be the coldest game for either team by far, with an expected kickoff temperature of 40 degrees with slight winds.
And if you’re throwing the ball, turning around to catch it or playing defense looking toward the south end zone early in the game, the sun is going to be right there in your eyes.
Also, since it’s a college field, the goal posts are more narrow. Kickers, take note.
Second time against Skyridge
As new as Skyridge High School is, the defending 5A runner-up Falcons and Royals are pretty familiar with each other as of late.
Skyridge beat Roy 28-20 in the Royals’ home opener on Aug. 31. They both came in 2-0 and Skyridge immediately dispensed any notion this would be competitive by going up 21-0 in the first quarter.
“In that first game I thought they were just going to run us out of the stadium ... I thought ‘Holy cow, we don’t look like we can play with these guys,’” Fernandes said.
What happened next gave Fernandes and the players a lot of belief, especially coming into Friday. Roy scored 13 points in the third and had the ball with a minute left in the fourth quarter trailing 28-20, but couldn’t score.
Both teams ran the ball decently well and both quarterbacks threw two interceptions in that game.
Here’s the thing that stands out: Skyridge had six sacks and four of Roy’s starters missed the game, including Rowan and lineman Zack Mendoza who played just two snaps. Might it make a difference now? Who knows.
For both squads, it’s the proverbial, ‘We got better but so have they.’ The Royals have won their last four games, split the Region 5 title three ways and, by the grace of the gas-station coin-flip gods, got the top seed.
Skyridge plastered Region 8 and has won its last eight contests since playing Roy by an eye-popping average of 31.8 points and the Falcons haven’t lost since the season opener.
Running back Ma’a Notoa has 1,509 yards and 22 rushing TDs, averaging 6 yards per carry. Quarterback Jayden Clemons complements his 2,091 passing yards and 24 scores with 763 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
And the Falcons are big up front. Senior center Logan Sagapolu checks in at 6-foot-3, 340 pounds and eight FBS scholarship offers including Utah, Oregon, Washington State and Arizona. They’re also very talented across the board.
Linebacker Blayden Togiai has 20.5 tackles for loss including 11 sacks. Defensive end Ioholani Raass has 12 sacks among 15 TFL’s. Statistically, Skyridge trumps Roy in just about every category.
Bu there’s another reason why Skyridge is so on fire right now. Some of the players have adorned their social media profiles with the hashtag “RevengeTour,” spurred from last year’s 55-17 loss to crosstown rival Lehi in the 5A state final.
So that’s all Roy has to contend with: a big, fast, talented and well-coached team that has a chip on its shoulder and looks like an avalanche right now.
Long story short, the Royals need a flawless game to keep this close.
There is one advantage they have. Fernandes is 23-10 all-time in the playoffs and 4-1 in the semifinals, spanning his time at Northridge and Roy.
Game, travel and ticket information
Friday’s forecast is clear and cold, so dress warm if you’re going.
Tickets to the game are $10 ($11 if paying with a credit card or debit card) and can be bought at the Rice-Eccles Stadium ticket office, which will open one hour before kickoff.
The ticket office is on the southwest side of the stadium (the same side as University Avenue/500 South). Tickets can also be bought online at Utahtickets.com or on the UHSAA website; these tickets will be sent via email and fans must present the tickets on their mobile device at the gate.
Taking public transportation (FrontRunner and/or TRAX) is recommended due to limited parking. If you plan to drive, parking will be available in specific lots near the stadium and they’ll be marked as available to football fans.
Roy is the designated visiting team, so the “Roy side” of the stadium is the west side (the same side as the stadium tower). Visiting team students and fans are advised to enter the stadium through Gate A on the southwest side.
Since the game is at the U, a clear bag policy is in effect. That means backpacks, fanny packs, laptop bags and such are prohibited, but fans are allowed to bring clear plastic bags (no bigger than 12 inches x 6 inches x 12 inches), seat cushions and chair backs no bigger than 18 inches without zippers or pockets, non-transparent clutch purses (no larger than 4.5 inches x 6.5 inches), resealable one-gallon clear bags or family care/diaper bags.
More information about the policy can be found online at stadium.utah.edu/clearbag.
Finally, if you can’t go, the Standard-Examiner will have game and video updates on Twitter accounts @patrickcarr_ and @standardexsport. The game will also be broadcast live on KJZZ TV.