Region 9 football: Defending champion Desert Hills needs to fill holes, but looks ready for 2017

ST. GEORGE – For the second time in the past four years, the Desert Hills Thunder managed to capture lightning in a bottle, winning the 3AA state championship on the last play of the championship game (plus a huge extra point last year).

And for the second time in four years, D-Hills heads into a new season as the defending state champs.

But things are a little different this time. Though stacked at many positions (12 returning starters), the Thunder will have to figure out how to replace superstar and state MVP Nephi Sewell and first team all-staters Bundy Sewell, Ty Warner and Ryan Hoppie, plus quarterback Quinn Kiser.

Add to that the intrigue of moving to 4A along with the rest of Region 9, with new statewide rivalries and better competition, and things will not be easy for the Thunder.

Desert Hills’ Brock Parry

“We’ve been working tirelessly to put ourselves in a position to try and make another run,” DH coach Carl Franke said. “(Brock Parry) has always been ready (at running back). Nephi was a little bit stronger, whereas Brock is a little bit more shifty. But Brock’s at top speed after two steps.”

For Parry and Desert Hills’ new quarterback (Noah Sewell or Logan Wilstead) to be successful, they’ll need the massive Thunder offensive line to be successful. It starts with highly-touted (and recruited) Penei Sewell.

“I learned a lot (at various camps) this summer,” Penei Sewell said. “We worked a lot on different techniques, but also to have more confidence in my game. I want to lead this team and have us be successful.”

On that big front line with Sewell will be two other returning starters in center Ryan Warner and tackle Leonides Jacobsen. There’s still a battle for the other two O-line spots between Mason Litim, Enoka Fuailetolo, and Brandon Anderson.

Desert Hills’ Penei Sewell (58) leads the way for Brock Perry (21) in this file photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Desert Hills will also look to replace a couple of good receivers in Logan Hokanson and Marco Jordan. Bo Barben and state championship hero Gavin Young will be key contributors.

The Thunder will try and platoon as much as possible this season. That means a different group of players on that side of the ball.

Up front, defensive ends Carter Reynolds and Cole Bailey will anchor the line, with youngsters Mason Creager, Leato Sewell and Cobie Rogers battling for playing time as well.

Linebackers Kekoa Afualo and Jake Stokes return, along with expected contributors Bronson Andrus and Matt Nisson.

The secondary has cornerback Giovanni Vaifanua back, but will have to break in new players at the other corner (Cooper Kenney) and at both safeties (Dawson Mayfield and Peyton Pace).

Desert Hills opens the season with 6A powerhouse Jordan at Thunder Stadium Friday, then will hit the road for two straight game (at Salem Hills and at Mission Hills, Calif.). Region 9 play starts Sept. 8 with a home game vs. Hurricane.

Desert Hills Thunder
Coach Carl Franke

2016 Results (10-2, 4-1)
Jordan 28, Desert Hills 21
Desert Hills 28, Salem Hills 7
Desert Hills 27, Foothill (Nev.) 0
Desert Hills 50, Grantsville 0
Desert Hills 18, Cedar 17
Desert Hills 51, Hurricane 23
Dixie 31, Desert Hills 22
Desert Hills 36, Pine View 19
Desert Hills 28, Snow Canyon 14
Desert Hills 49, Ridgeline 24
Desert Hills 49, Stansbury 14
Desert Hills 28, Pine View 27

2017 schedule (home games bolded)
Aug. 18 – vs. Jordan
Aug. 25 – at Salem Hills
Sept. 1 – at Mission Hills, Calif.
Sept. 8 – vs. Hurricane
Sept. 15 – at Cedar
Sept. 22 – vs. Canyon View
Sept. 29 – bye
Oct. 5 – at Pine View
Oct. 11 – vs. Dixie
Oct. 19 – at Snow Canyon

Returning starters: Offense 6, defense 6

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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