The West Panthers take on the East Leopards in the 22nd most-played rivalry in the entire nation. The rivalry dates back to 1914, with East leading the series 60-44-7 after winning last year’s battle 21-6. Upwards of 10,000 fans are expected to pack the stands to witness Utah high school football at its best.
After going 1-8 in 2009, Brandon Matich was named the new head coach and immediately paid dividends. The Leopards started off a perfect 6-0 in Matich’s first season before finishing 8-3. In 2011, East started out with a perfect 9-0 record before finishing with a 12-2 record, a Region 6 championship, and an appearance in the state championship game. The Leopards lost to Logan, but it’s clear that the program is shaping itself to be one of the elite programs in the state. East returns 15 of its starters from last year’s state runner-up team (7 on offense and 8 on defense), including 9 of which are gaining interest from Division-1 schools (4 have already committed). This year expectations are sky high with many predicting the Leopards to win the Region 6 title and get back to the state championship. East is looking to add to its already illustrious history, including 32 region championships to go with 15 state champions, the most in Utah history.
West High is the oldest high school in Utah. They have 7 state championships to their name and 24 regional championships, while holding the record for most wins (551) and games played (976) in state history. The Panthers have not won a regional championship since 1995 and a state championship since 1992, so expectations are high on first-year coach Keith Lopati to restore West High’s reputation as one of the strongest teams in all of Utah. After a 6-6 record in 2011 (5-5 in Region 2) and an early departure in the 5A quarterfinals, the Panthers are looking to bounce back this season. The Panthers only have 4 returning starters on offense, anchored by senior quarterback Alex Espinoza, and 3 returning on defense.
For these fierce rivals, the race to see who adds the next state championship begins on Friday Night.