North Summit advances to face defending state champ
Just a year removed from a 6-3 regular season and advancing to the state semifinals, the North Summit High School football team had a less than ideal 2016 season kickoff with four consecutive losses. Until a couple of weeks ago, the Braves, who were one of the top four teams in 2A last year, were viewed as easy competition by their weekly opponents.
Thanks to a strong finish — 3-2 in the final five contests — North Summit found momentum heading into this year’s UHSAA playoffs, where it hosted North Sevier in the first round. Heading into the game as the favorite over the 1-8 Wolves, the Braves, behind a strong rushing attack that saw six touchdowns on the ground, advanced to the quarterfinals with a 47-12 win.
“We came out and got a quick start and got some guys in,” North Summit Head Coach Devin Smith said. “It was a good game for us.”
North Summit’s running game was hampered a few weeks back when second-leading rusher Rand Pentz went down with a season-ending injury. Since then, the Braves have been trying to get used to the idea of playing without Pentz, but leading rusher Tristan Woolstenhulme is starting to pick up the entire backfield’s slack.
In North Summit’s win over North Sevier, Woolstenhulme finished with four of the team’s six rushing touchdowns, including runs of 55, 72, 26 and 44 that all went for scores. This brought his season total up to 15, second in the state in 2A, while taking over at the top of the leaderboard in terms of rushing yards in the classification.
Couple Woolstenhulme’s career game with a stout defense that allowed just 12 points and the Braves are showing glimpses of their last-year selves heading into the quarterfinals.
So what does North Summit get for blowing out the Wolves and turning things on late in the season? A matchup with defending state champion Beaver.
“We played [Beaver] earlier in the season,” Smith said. “We really played well for three quarters. In fact, we were right there and … the wheels kind of came off in the fourth quarter. I think going in and playing them again, it will be to our advantage because our kids know they can play with them.”
The Beavers have been nearly unstoppable this season in their title defense year, suffering just one loss by three points to San Juan, another one-loss team in 2A. Beaver was also the team that knocked North Summit out of the playoffs last season and placed a beat down on the Braves earlier in this one (55-20), so let’s just say North Summit is fired up for the upcoming gmae.
The confidence radiating from the Braves isn’t common among 4-6 teams going against the No. 2 seed out of the 2A South division. But as Smith mentioned, 27 fourth-quarter points from the Beavers ultimately led to the earlier-season loss, creating a sense of belief among the Braves that they could pull off the unlikely upset.
“I think sometimes when you’ve beaten a team, at least on the scoreboard, fairly handily, you have a tendency to overlook,” Smith said. “We know how Beaver is a good team, there’s no question about it.
Save that loss to San Juan, Beaver has put up at least 28 points in every game, including a 76-point outburst over the team that North Summit just beat in North Sevier. The defending state champion clearly knows how to put points up on the scoreboard, but Smith and company are hoping to combat the high-octane offense with strategic play.
“As long as our offense is on the field, their offense can’t be,” Smith said. “Our offense is our best defense. They are explosive. They have some tremendous athletes. One of our big things is going to be just trying to take care of the ball. We want to shorten the game as much as we can and give them as few opportunities as possible.”
The quarterfinal matchup between the Braves and Beaver is set to kick off from Beaver High School at 5 p.m. on Friday.
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