Flyers grab momentum, then clinch region title at Desert Hills

ST. GEORGE – Sometimes it’s hard to point at one moment in time that turned the tide of a game squarely in one team’s favor. And sometimes it’s easy.

Dixie survived a goal-line stand as time expired in the first half, then owned the rest of the game in a 36-21 victory over the Desert Hills Thunder Wednesday night at Thunder Stadium.

The victory, coupled with Pine View’s win over Cedar, clinches the Region 9 championship for the Flyers, who have a two-game lead on the rest of the region with one regular season game remaining.

Dixie’s Jacob Barben (13) and Hobbs Nyberg (9), Desert Hills vs. Dixie, Football, St. George, UT, Oct. 11, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“Obviously, we’re very happy with having the region title and the top seeding,” Dixie coach Andy Stokes said. “But we have one game left and we want to make sure we go into the playoffs hot and playing as well as we can and I don’t know that you can do that by slacking off at all.”

Down 14-7 just before halftime and out of timeouts, Desert Hills drove the length of the field behind the power of quarterback Noah Sewell and the speed of running back Brock Parry. After a Dixie personal foul put the ball at the 12-yard line, Sewell scrambled and ran the ball down to the 3. With the clock ticking under 30 seconds, Sewell rammed up the middle and got the ball to the 1 for a first-and-goal with 20 seconds left.

The clock restarted after the chains were set, but instead of spiking the ball, the Thunder hurried to the line and tried a quarterback sneak. Dixie stuffed Sewell at the line and before the offense could get set for another play, the clock expired, sending a disappointed D-Hills squad to the locker room with a 14-7 deficit, having come up inches short of the tying touchdown.

Dixie’s Payden Harrah (7) makes a catch for a second half touchdown, Desert Hills vs. Dixie, Football, St. George, UT, Oct. 11, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“The stop was huge – I mean that’s momentum right there,” Stokes said. “Either they’re going to get momentum or we’re going to get momentum on that one play. All the credit to our D-line and our linebackers, right there. That’s just man-to-man football. You don’t make a call to stop that – you either stop it or you don’t, and we did.”

Dixie defensive coordinator Wayne Alofipo expounded on the half-ending stand.

“We knew they were going to run Noah (Sewell) on that last play (of the half), so we brought pressure up the middle,” he said. “Lucky for us, they were out of timeouts. I’ll tell you what, a touchdown right before halftime could have really changed the game, so we’re glad it went our way.”

After the brick wall stop going into halftime, Dixie came out fired up and outscored Desert Hills 22-0 over the next 16 minutes of game time to forge a commanding 36-7 advantage. The Thunder added two touchdowns in the game’s final five minutes to tighten up the final score.

Desert Hills’ Bo Barben (13) and Dixie’s Jake Staheli (22), Desert Hills vs. Dixie, Football, St. George, UT, Oct. 11, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Dixie had first-half TDs from Jacob Barben (5-yard run) and Hobbs Nyberg (4-yard run) sandwiched around a Parry 38-yard score.

But in the second half, Dixie’s defense started the show with a Matt Kitchen interception (his fourth of the year). That turnover led to a Barben-to-Nyberg 13-yard touchdown pass that made it 20-7 with 6:36 to go in the third quarter. Dixie then used a trick play (a Daffy Duck formation, with the linemen to the left and skill players and center to the right) to convert a two-pointer after the TD and make it 22-7 on a Barben keeper.

The Thunder turned it over on downs at the Dixie 43 on their next possession. The Flyers then marched 57 yards on 12 plays to make it 29-7 less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Nyberg did the honors from 18-yards out, going literally untouched on a read play.

A D-Hills punt led to a third consecutive TD drive for the Flyers. This time, Dixie struck quickly, going 58 yards in four plays (plus a DH penalty). Barben hit Payden Harrah with a feather-soft touch pass from 20-yards out to make it 36-7 with 7:42 left in the game.

“Barben, he’s something special,” Stokes said. “He’s sometimes at another level out there. He sees things that other players don’t.”

The Thunder finally broke Dixie’s 29-point run when Sewell broke a couple of tackles en route to a 24-yard TD with 4:47 to play in the game. Things got a little exciting when the Thunder also recovered an onside kick, then quickly scored again. Sewell bulled in from 14 yards out to make it 36-21 with 3:28 left.

But a second onside kick was unsuccessful and the Flyers were able to run out the clock and secure their third straight Region 9 championship.

Desert Hills’ Carter Reynolds (9) and Dixie’s Josh Cazier (15) fight for an onside kick, Desert Hills vs. Dixie, Football, St. George, UT, Oct. 11, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

“I’ve got great assistant coaches and one thing I can count on with my kids is they come out and compete hard,” Stokes said. “That’s a real key. We don’t get intimidated or too high or low. They just come out and compete every time. And that’s all a coach could ask.”

Desert Hills actually outgained Dixie 378-325. But the Flyers won several very telling statistical categories. Dixie was 9 for 16 on third and fourth downs in the game (DH was 4 for 14) and the Flyers only committed one turnover (the Thunder had three).

Stokes was very complimentary of his vanquished foe.

“Desert Hills is a phenomenal football team,” he said. “They’re going to go far in the playoffs, I don’t care where they’re seeded. They’re going to be a hard team to beat. Noah’s a great player and the Parry kid’s a phenomenal back, and they have a great front. So they’re going to be tough to beat.”

Nyberg didn’t have any huge breakaways as in games past, but he did yeoman-like work running the ball. He carried 24 times for 111 yards and two TDs, plus had 60 receiving yards and a score. Barben ran for 39 yards and a score and was 13 for 18 for 164 yards and two passing TDs.

For Desert Hills, Parry finished with a game-high 154 rushing yards and a TD, while Sewell had 106 yards on 17 carries. Sewell also passed for 108 yards, but did have two interceptions.

While Dixie (8-1 and 5-0) has its region crown and top seed secured, the teams below them (including Desert Hills) are in a dead heat. There are three other playoff spots available, but four teams (DH, Pine View, Cedar and Snow Canyon) tied with identical 3-2 region records.

Stats: dixdh101117

Wednesday’s Region 9 results
Dixie 36, Desert Hills 21
Snow Canyon 41, Hurricane 14
Pine View 17, Cedar 3

REGION 9 STANDINGS
1. Dixie 5-0 (8-1)
2t. Snow Canyon 3-2 (6-2)
2t. Pine View 3-2 (6-3)
2t. Desert Hills 3-2 (5-3)
2t. Cedar 3-2 (4-4)
6. Hurricane 1-5 (2-7)
7. Canyon View 0-5 (0-8)

Next Week’s Region 9 games
Dixie at Cedar
Desert Hills at Snow Canyon
Canyon View at Pine View

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

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

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