2020 Week 0 (Utah)
2020 has not been a great year. Which would be an understatement. Since 2012 or so, I’ve had my season plotted out from beginning to end and though it may be more of a ‘guide’ than a rigid itinerary, I would tend to keep up with my plans. Weather, rescheduling, and sometimes overlooked games may change things.
This year, however, has been wildly different. My New York plans fell through. Both a regular season weekend, and playoff games, including those at what was just recently renamed New Era Field. Then, Georgia pushed back their Week 0 Corky Kell Classic into September. Pennsylvania added to it as the WPIAL pushed their season back two weeks. And then the rest of the state followed suit following Governor Wolf’s recommendation.
Around the country, states were cancelling fall football left and right. The first was New Mexico. Then California, Maryland, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and some others. The dagger, to me, was seeing Colorado move to a spring schedule. I am in Colorado a lot. And they have a tendency to play a lot of Thursday and Saturday games. Soon after, Minnesota and recently Michigan have opted for a spring schedule.
With my Georgia and PA plans in tatters, it meant deciding what else to do. There’s always Utah. Utah has a series of “Endowment Games” that are funded by the host school paying a fee to the UHSAA to host a Week 0 contest.
Not every school participates in them. Last year, I just happened to be in Utah a few days before the contests and decided to stick around long enough to see the season opener at Corner Canyon and, upholding a statement I made years and years ago, that if I were ever in Utah and Monticello was playing, I would attend their game. They played Monument Valley. A school and stadium I stopped and saw on a trip seven years ago. And, again, wanted to go back. But, the Georgia trip with games on a Wednesday made Utah untenable.
However, with Georgia postponing, it opened up this Week 0 opportunity for me. And Monument Valley was set to host Monticello to return the favor. However, the southeastern schools, including Monument Valley and Whitehorse which are in the Navajo Nation reservation opted quite early to sit out fall sports amid Covid-19 concerns.
Thursday, was only one real option. The only option. Herriman was hosting Davis to kickoff the 2020 football season in the nation (aside from any games in Alaska or Hawaii who usually start a week or two earlier). Making the decision to be in Utah wasn’t an easy one. I had to confirm that, yes, I would get into the stadium to cover it. Or, at worst, just pay and sit in the stands.
But with Covid-19 and social distancing, the stadium was set at 25% capacity and before I had even confirmed I’d be in Utah, the game was sold out. My only true hope was that I would get a press pass, which given the magnitude of the game and that it was being aired on TV which meant even more sideline personnel, might have been troublesome.
However, I did get that pass for PAFN and then just had to plan the logistics of getting to Utah and getting the game. I stayed in Salt Lake City and it was a long, miserable trip to the far southwest corner of the metro area to Herriman during rush hour.
There weren’t programs, but there was roster sheets. With the covid-19 guidelines, photographers were stuck in one of the two endzones. The player boxes were extended to the 10 yard lines. This made photography much more difficult as only rarely did the players on the field cooperate with getting good shots from the corners.
However, as the game progressed, it was clear the players were staying more to their traditional box and you could venture up the sidelines to the 25. And, photographers eventually started crossing behind the box to switch endzones depending on the play on the field. However, I stuck to the south endzone just due to being ‘non-local’ and not wanting to have any issues.
Herriman’s stadium is nice, but it is in a ‘bad’ location. For all the beautiful scenery around it, the stadium sits in a depression to the east of the school, which blocks almost all view of the Oquirrh Mountains to the west. And large condominiums dominate the north and east end of the stadium. Blotting out the view of the Wasatch Mountains far to the east.
The field is turf, with a simple LED scoreboard to the south. A track, with navy endzones and a rather standard metal risers for the home and visiting fans. The concessions, restrooms, and vestibule were behind the home stand to the north end. Media entered through the southwest corner where the players entered.
For weather, the game was beautiful. Despite a 90 degree day, the dry air, and setting sun with a slight breeze made it feel temperate.
The two teams were contrasts in style, aesthetically. Herriman were all in navy, with maroon and Vegas gold trim. An H on their helmets or stylized head and mane of a mustang on the other. A nod to their founding just ten years ago when the ‘darker’ primary colors were all the rage. Think of the Rams, Patriots, Texans, etc.
Davis, meanwhile, were dressed head to toe in white. With brown and yellow trim for striping. A clean, crisp road look. Davis, the Darts, are from Kaysville. A bedroom community north of SLC and just south of Layton along the overly crowded I-15 corridor. Davis is one of the winningest teams in Utah. Amassing over 590 victories in their 106 year history. They also hold seven state titles in football.
For Covid-19, the fans were restricted to 25% capacity and fans were to enter in separate entrances depending if they were home or visiting fans. No tickets were sold at the game. All tickets were sold online. Fans were required to sit in their assigned section. And though that started, the ‘spreading out’ part of the equation didn’t last. People clumped together and congregated toward the 50 yard line. Which also was where the student section congregated. Packing tightly together in the first few rows.
PA announcements continued throughout the game advising fans to sit in their assigned sections. As well as to implore mask use and social distancing. Now, though social distancing seemed lacking, mask use was quite high. In fact, it seemed like, other than when eating or drinking, fans in the stadium had consistently worn their masks.
For the game itself, it was a common theme. Home team got a quick lead, the visitors would take the lead from them and grind through the game before the home team made it interesting at the end.
Davis would win the first game of the year, 24-20 over Herriman.
For Friday, though, my options were much more open. But there’s something to be said about having too many options. I really had no clue which game I wanted to do and I knew with Covid-19 restrictions that I couldn’t just ‘show up’ like I have in the past. I’d need to confirm I have access to the field and/or stadium.
So, I looked around and I wanted to avoid another trip south to places such as Jordan, Sandy, Bingham, etc. I looked to the east, to Olympus, or north, to Clearfield. But, then I decided to stick to the west. And zeroed in on two games.
The first, and the one I wanted to see despite predictions of it being one-sided, was Cyprus hosting Snow Canyon. Cyprus is located in Magna, a small town just at the edge of the Oquirrh Mountains, just south of the Great Salt Lake. Snow Canyon, on the other hand, hail from the far southern part of the state, in a small city named St. George just before I-15 enters into the corner of Arizona and the Virgin River Gorge on its was to Las Vegas.
St. George is a thriving city and, like a smaller version of its northern neighbor, Salt Lake City, it’s growing steadily. Aside from that, my intrigue was nothing more than just because. My second option was in the town of West Valley City, an area that many might know because of the 2002 Olympics held many events inside the town. Including hockey at the E-Center, which became now the Maverik Center (named for a chain of gas stations). It’s also a town with a personal connection, as I worked there for a few months many years ago.
Hunter High School was hosting Bonneville High School. And much to my chagrin, it was not a school from out near the Bonneville Salt Flats. Instead, it was from the community of Washington Terrace, located near Layton, Clearfield and other northern suburbia.
Of the two I contacted first, Hunter was the only ones to reciprocate my media request, before I had moved on to other options.
So, I made my way to the school at 5pm, and didn’t get there until almost 6. The school at Hunter was under renovations. The land between the stadium and the school blocked off with chain-link fences, barriers, and mounds of unkempt dirt.
The stadium itself is a relic of the past. Only receiving lights in 1993, the stadium is all concrete, home and away, and sits north and south. The home side, like many originally unlit fields, sits facing to the west. Luckily, the low profile of the stadium and the aforementioned Oquirrh Mountains provide enough relief from the sun even in mid-August nearing kickoff.
The low-profile of the stadium is aided in the fact that the stands only have eleven rows of bleachers on the home side. The concrete stadium runs goal line to goal line. The visiting side is even smaller. Only four rows of bleachers. Also, running goal line to goal line.
The large concrete edifice is painted with HHS insignias. Literally, HHS is across the front of the visiting stands, while “Hunter” and “Wolverines” frame the tunnel entrance below the press box at the 50 yard line, which provides access for the players to the field. As werefans coming and going from the parking in the front of the school. Also, large painted paw print scratching the front of the masonry.
The pressbox is small and nondescript. It sits low to the stands and also all in concrete. The seats at midfield have colored concrete below the bleachers, with one of the two sections have a white H showing. The northern one does not.
The field is turfed, and has a four-lane two-tone blue/gray track surrounding it. Black chain link fencing separates the track from the field and the concession stands sit to the southwest corner of the stadium into the hillside. Restrooms, for this game, were a series of port-a-potties located behind the home stands. A byproduct of the construction in the area.
Despite the smaller crowd, it did fill in as the game got underway. And the limited concession stand sold out of almost everything edible. A miscalculation, it would seem, on the amount an arbitrarily shrunken capacity would still dictate.
As with the night before, there was no band. Just cheerleaders and dance teams. The game started with the home team doing a run-thru from the south endzone that was delayed as the Bonneville players were ushered in from the midfield tunnel.
For the game, Hunter started quickly with a long TD after a quick 3-and-out. But Bonneville would answer with two scores and take a 13-6 lead. Three more scores compounding on a series of follies by the home squad stuck them deep in a hole, down 34-6 early in the fourth. But, despite that, Hunter would not go quietly into that good night. A 17-yard TD, followed by a safety after an errant Bonneville long snap on a punt, and a 70-yard TD pass made it 34-23. Again with the ball after a bruising defensive stand left them with a flicker of a chance. Extinguished on a forced punt as the return man misread it and it bounced harmless to a gaggle of white shirts who recovered it. A victory formation and the game was over.
It was a gorgeous weekend in Utah and despite everything going on the world with Covid-19 it was good to be on a sideline again taking in a high school football game. A sense of normalcy in a world far removed from normal.
For the weekend, my only expenses were transportation, at $109.54 for the weekend. I didn’t count food or getting to Utah because that’s other work related and I won’t count that.
Photos of the Week
Determination, Herriman Mustangs HC Dustin Pearce
Davis QB Chance Trujillo
Ed Mayne Stadium, Hunter HS, West Valley City, UT
Mason Koopmans, WR, Bonneville Lakers
Hunter CB Omarion Jackson with the interception
Hunter RB Lorenzo Tua’one takes the handoff from Justin Brusatto
Next weekend, my plans are to be in the Peace Garden State. Two games in North Dakota are accounted for and I hope they can go through without a hitch. On Friday night, a 9-man game between Beach and Hettinger/Scranton. Like Monticello and Monument Valley, Beach is on my bucket list because one time years ago among my travels, I stopped at this little outpost on the western edge of North Dakota and took in a personal tour of the stadium and track. The photos, from an old blackberry, are lost to time, but I always have made it a point to one day get back and see this stadium in all its glory with a game going on. Despite Covid-19, with my schedule in total disarray, I was not going to pass up this opportunity.
On Saturday, just a half hour east of Beach, Heart River is hosting Bowman County at 2pm in Belfield. Both schools are co-ops, that have, unlike Hettinger/Scranton formulated their own new names. Heart River is a condensed co-op of three schools: Belfield, South Heart, and Billings County. They play in Belfield. A town I’m well acquainted with as I really like the “Trapper’s Kettle” restaurant located at the Trapper’s Inn.
Meanwhile, Bowman County is, though it name implies otherwise, actually a co-op of two schools inside Bowman County. Bowman, who shares the county’s namesake and is its county seat, and Rhame, a small town to the west along US12 before reaching Marmarsh, another town I find fascinating. Last year, I was in Bowman for their playoff game, hosted on a Saturday afternoon, between them and Kenmare/Bowbells/Burke Central.
Of the four teams I plan to see this upcoming weekend, I’ve been to Beach, Belfield, Bowman, Hettinger, and Scranton. I have not been to Medora or South Heart, as both of those are, to put it nicely, off the beaten path.
As for what happens after? Haven’t a clue. My original plans were to go all the way to Jayton, Texas for the Jayton Kickoff Classic. A series of 9 games, shrunken to 8, that would be played over 3 days. All six-man games. Jayton, again, is a town I’ve been to and have wanted to see a game there. But, alas, the Jayton Kickoff Classic was cancelled. The games are still being played. But no longer as a group in one place. And not spread out over several days. So, for Week 2, I haven’t a clue just yet. In fact, nowhere else in the country do I have any solid plans given the fluid nature of this year. It’s going to be a week-to-week basis, and I hope to just make it work out enough that I can find somewhere, anywhere, to see games. Including back home in PA or Ohio (and even NY) once things really get underway and there’s no surprises.
For photos from this weekend, click HERE.
For photos from previous seasons, visit http://www.flickr.com/sykotyk/sets/