Road to the title game: Desert Hills Thunder

Desert Hills will get a chance to defend its state championship title, but the Thunder will have to do it on the road, file photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – The Desert Hills Thunder are 9-2 and face rival Pine View (10-2) Friday at 11 a.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the 3AA state championship. The two teams met in the 2013 title game, with Desert Hills taking a 27-21 decision by scoring on the final play of the game.

desert-hills-logoThe Thunder lost a couple of close games this year and had to deal with sporadic injuries, but came through with an impressive playoff run to reach the title game.

Here’s a look back at this season’s schedule for the Thunder:

Week 1: Jordan 28, Desert Hills 21

The Thunder came into the game as the favorites to win the 3AA South and a close loss to 5A Jordan did nothing to dissuade that notion, especially considering Desert Hills was playing without two key players in running back Nephi Sewell and defensive back Ryan Hoppie.

Desert Hills Brock Parry (21), Desert Hills vs. Jordan, Football,  Sandy, UT, Aug. 19, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Desert Hills Brock Parry (21), Desert Hills vs. Jordan, Football, Sandy, UT, Aug. 19, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Jordan led 21-0 at halftime, but the Thunder got third quarter TDs from Marco Jordan and Braxton Porter to cut it to 21-14. The Beetdiggers answered with a score midway through the fourth, but Quinn Kiser scored from a yard out with 1:59 left to make it 28-21. An unsuccessful onside kick enabled Jordan to run out the clock

“We could have folded up the tents and gone home, but we didn’t,” Thunder coach Carl Franke said. “We challenged the kids at halftime and asked them if they were going to roll over or if they were going to fight to the end. And they fought to the end. I’m very proud of them.”

Week 2: Desert Hills 28, Salem Hills 7

In their home opener, the Thunder managed just a 7-0 lead at the half, but the defense was phenomenal all game long. Brock Parry had a 9-yard TD run in the first half and a 1-yarder in the third quarter. D-Hills pushed its lead to 21-0 in the third, with Braxton Porter catching a 58-yard TD pass from Kiser.

The Skyhawks cut it to 21-7 early in the fourth quarter, but Kiser ran one in from 5-yards out to seal the victory. DH’s defense allowed Salem Hills just two trips into the red zone the entire game.

“That was a hard-fought game and that’s a good team over there,” DH coach Carl Franke said.

Week 3: Desert Hills 27, Foothill (Nev.) 0

In Las Vegas, the Thunder continued the early-season theme with stonewall defense and inconsistent offense. DH held a 7-0 lead at the half, with Jordan scoring on a screen pass with just two minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Kiser hit Noah Sewell and Kobe Sattiewhite with TD passes in the third quarter to build the lead to 20-0 and a 1-yard TD dive by Jordan capped the scoring early in the fourth quarter. The Thunder held the Falcons to just 116 yards in the game.

“Their defense keyed on our run game,” Franke said. “And they were successful. We had to adapt and went to the air more than we usually do. And Quinn Kiser made big plays scrambling when the receivers were covered.”

Week 4: Desert Hills 50, Grantsville 0

Desert Hills’ Nephi Sewell (2) expresses gratitude after scoring a touchdown, Grantsville vs. Desert Hills, Football, Grantsville, Utah, Sept. 9, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Desert Hills’ Nephi Sewell (2) expresses gratitude after scoring a touchdown, Grantsville vs. Desert Hills, Football, Grantsville, Utah, Sept. 9, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

The return of Nephi Sewell was the big news in this mismatch of a game. Sewell took his first touch in more than a year to the house with a 51-yard TD on a screen pass. Ryan Hoppie also returned to the lineup, recording 10 tackles and an interception.

The Thunder had 610 yards of offense and held the Cowboys to just 145. Desert Hills led 43-0 at halftime and rolled from there. Parry rushed for over 100 yards and Kiser passed for more than 200 and the DH defense pitched its second straight shutout.

“It is great to get those two guys back,” said Desert Hills head coach Carl Franke. “Nephi is a dominant player. He is dangerous every time he touches the ball. Ryan Hoppie was in on about 10 tackles tonight defensively. Six or seven of those were solo.”

Week 5: Desert Hills 18, Cedar 17

Preseason co-MVPs Nephi Sewell and Mason Fakahua did battle on this night, with the Thunder coming away with the key road win. Playing defense, Sewell had a pick-six in the first half and Hoppie partially blocked a field goal in the final minute of the game to preserve the win.

D-Hills had just 48 yards in the first half and trailed 17-6 early in the third quarter. Kiser found Logan Hokanson for a 20-yard TD pass to make it 17-12 midway through the third quarter. Kiser then hit Porter with the go-ahead score halfway through the final quarter. Cedar answered with a drive to the DH 17-yard line, but Hoppie leaped over the center and tipped the attempted game-winning field goal.

“Cedar showed up and played hard tonight,” Franke said. “We found a way in the second half to make a few more plays, and our defense played, I thought, awesome all night.”

Week 6: Desert Hills 51, Hurricane 23

Nephi Sewell had his best game of the season to date by rushing for 172 yards and two touchdowns as the Thunder scored 17 unanswered in the second quarter and led 23-7 at halftime. Hokanson also played well, catching three passes for 114 yards and a TD.

Desert Hills’ Nephi Sewell (2), Desert Hills vs. Hurricane, Football, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Desert Hills’ Nephi Sewell (2), Desert Hills vs. Hurricane, Football, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

D-Hills had 504 yards of offense and its highest point total of the season to this point. Hurricane was within 37-23 early in the fourth quarter before the Thunder pulled away with TDs by Sewell and Hokanson.

“Tonight it was nice to get Nephi in more of a groove,” Thunder coach Carl Franke said. “It’s a different level of play when he’s out there. You see him carry the ball and it’s a different speed, a different explosion. And for some reason, it seems like the kids block so much harder for him as well.”

Week 7: Dixie 31, Desert Hills 22

The Thunder had their five-game winning streak snapped by rival Dixie. Desert Hills never led in the game, but kept rallying to keep it close. Hobbs Nyberg had 170 receiving yards and three TDs, the first two putting Dixie ahead 14-0. A Sewell run made it 14-7 before Nyberg struck again to make it 21-7.

DH got a 60-yard Parry run for a score to cut it to 21-15 and the Thunder would later cut it to 24-22 in the third quarter. DH had the ball, but fumbled inside its own 20 to set up the clinching score by the Flyers as Desert Hills fell to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in region.

“We had our chances, but that fumble really cost us,” Franke said. “We gave that game away in a lot of ways. But it helped us reevaluate somethings and ultimately made us a better team.”

Week 8: Desert Hills 36, Pine View 19

Nephi Sewell exploded for 212 yards, the top rushing game of his career, and the Thunder outscored the Panthers 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Playing offense only, Sewell averaged 10.2 yards per carry and also had 31 receiving yards.

Desert Hills’ Marco Jordan (25) makes a catch, Desert Hills vs. Pine View, Football, St. George, Utah, Oct. 7, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Desert Hills’ Marco Jordan (25) makes a catch, Desert Hills vs. Pine View, Football, St. George, Utah, Oct. 7, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Pine View tied the score at 19-19 with a Connor Brooksby field goal with 1:42 left in the third quarter. From that point on, it was all Desert Hills. Logan Callister gave DH the lead back with a 32-yard field goal early in the fourth, then Kiser ran in a 21-yard scramble to make it 29-19. Sewell’s 1-yard TD with under two minutes left sealed the deal.

“Our play calling usually depends on what the defense gives us, but with Nephi we get positive yardage no matter what they do,” said DH head coach Carl Franke. “It takes a swarm of defenders to bring him down.”

Week 10: Desert Hills 28, Snow Canyon 14

After a bye in Week 9, the Thunder beat Snow Canyon in a revenge game, getting even for last season’s quarterfinal loss to the Warriors. Sewell had another big game with 163 yards and a first-quarter TD run that tied the game at 7-7. Kiser had TD passes to Hokanson and Jordan to give the Thunder a 21-14 halftime advantage.

Snow Canyon turned the ball over twice deep in Thunder territory in the fourth quarter, once on a Hunter Holt interception and once on a Masan Tuileta fumble recovery, and Desert Hills was finally able to ice the game with a long drive and a 13-yard Parry TD with 1:09 left in the game. DH ended the regular season 7-2 overall and 4-1 in region.

“It was bend, but don’t break tonight,” Franke said. “Not ideally how we want to play, but the defense came up with some big turnovers to keep them out of the end zone.”

3AA quarterfinals: Desert Hills 49, Ridgeline 24

Desert Hills' Bundy Sewell (71), Desert Hills vs. Ridgeline, Football, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Desert Hills’ Bundy Sewell (71), Desert Hills vs. Ridgeline, Football, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Sewell continued his impressive run of games with 163 yards, even quarterbacking the Thunder in the wildcat formation for some of the second half. It was a 21-10 game at half, but DH scored 21 unanswered in the third quarter and turned it into a blowout.

With 332 rushing yards as a team, the game ball went to the offensive line, which shoved the Riverhawks around for more than two hours. Kiser had two TDs and Parry rushed for 78 yards as well as D-Hills eliminated the No. 3 seed from the 3AA North.

“We just tried to work together as a line and own the line of scrimmage,” said DH sophomore center Ryan Warner. “In the second and third quarter, I felt it, because we just started pushing people around a lot.”

3AA semifinals: Desert Hills 49, Stansbury 14

With 498 yards and an average of 9.1 yards per play, the Thunder offense was on full display at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Sewell rushed for 153 yards and three TDs and Jordan had 154 yards of offense and two TDs as Desert Hills ran away from the Stallions after a 14-14 tie early in the game.

Desert Hills scored 35 points in the first half and opened the third quarter with a 79-yard drive that ended on a 19-yard screen from Kiser to Jordan to quell any Stansbury comeback thoughts.

“Something clicked the week after Snow Canyon and I don’t know what it was and it wasn’t anything I said, but for some reason something clicked,” DH coach Carl Franke said. “I think what it was is that they finally figured out the type of players they actually are and they felt like they hadn’t tapped into their potential. I think right now they have confidence in each other and that is the big thing.”

Desert Hills' Quinn Kiser (5), Desert Hills vs. Stansbury, 3AA Football Semifinals, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 10, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News
Desert Hills’ Quinn Kiser (5), Desert Hills vs. Stansbury, 3AA Football Semifinals, Salt Lake City, Utah, Nov. 10, 2016, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

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