CLEARFIELD — With the UHSAA’s newly introduced RPI ranking system orchestrating postseason matchups, region titles now lack some of the luster and built-in advantages of the past.
But don’t try downplaying the importance to the Syracuse Titans.
The Titans recovered from a slip-up against Fremont on Sept. 20 to win its final three league contests, which concluded with Friday night’s dominant 41-7 win over Clearfield, to earn their first region crown since 2016.
With Weber’s loss to Roy, Syracuse (7-2, 6-1 Region 1) earned the Region 1 title outright, which solidified a dramatic turnaround for a squad with endured a 2-7 record a year ago.
“(The region championship) is really big,” Syracuse senior Kobe Rusch said. “We were really young last year. A lot of our guys had to move on from that season and let it go. We worked really hard this summer and we figured out what we gotta do to win.
“The region championship was the goal all year long and we’re very happy to complete and have success with what we were doing.”
As has been the case for most of the season, Syracuse senior quarterback Bridger Hamblin was again potent in directing one of the most proficient offensive attacks in class 6A. Hamblin had accounted for 34 touchdowns entering the game (15 rushing, 19 passing) and added two more, including hauling in a scoring reception on a pass from Rusch.
“I’ve thrown two touchdowns this year,” Rusch said. (The coaching staff) kind of found out earlier on that I have an arm. I played quarterback through little league and they give me the shots and let their playmakers make plays. Kudos to the coaches.”
The Titan defensive effort was also stellar, pulling in five interceptions which included a pair of pick-sixes. Rusch had an impact on that side of the ball as well, returning his interception 45 yards for a score, while Ty Burke brought one back nearly the length of the field near the end of the third period.
“Great blocking from my guys up there,” Rusch added. “There were three key blocks and without them I couldn’t have got into the end zone. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
If there was any question about whether Syracuse would overlook the struggling Falcons, it was answered quickly as the Titans came out and punched Clearfield in the mouth, so to speak, right off the bat.
Hamblin put the Titans on the scoreboard only 1:17 into the contest with a 20-yard run on a quarterback scramble. Syracuse then blocked a Falcon punt to set up Hamblin’s 7-yard reception from Rusch at the 8:13 mark of the first quarter.
Following an interception from Caden Mitchell, Micaih Eteuati went into the end zone untouched from the 2 to make it 20-0 less than seven minutes into the game.
Rusch’s interception tacked on another seven points in the second quarter and a second Mitchell pick in Clearfield territory initiated a drive capped by a 1-yard Tre’Vaun Peoples plunge to make it 34-0 at the break.
Burke’s interception return late in the third quarter were Syracuse’s only points of the second half, while Clearfield (1-8, 1-6) got its first points with 1:47 to play on an 11-yard Bransen Simper to Cade Pierren pass-play.
“The focus was that this is our rivalry week,” Rusch said. “These guys are a 10-minute drive. We were excited to come play them and we were ready for a battle.”
The Titans, who were ranked 10th in the RPI ranking coming into the game, will now have at least a two-week wait until its next contest. Unless Syracuse somehow sneaks into the top six and earns a first-round bye when the final rankings are released on Oct. 19, the Titans will next take to the gridiron on Oct. 25, likely at home.