Desert Hills preview: Thunder trying to take it to a new level

ST. GEORGE – They hear the echoes in the surrounding hills, like distant peals of thunder: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” or “Desert Hills, where you can learn how to almost be a champion,” or “DH can’t win the big one.”

So close to state championships in the boys three major sports, Desert Hills has finished second in state in football, basketball and baseball during the last two seasons. Last year, the Thunder football team followed their 2011 second-place state finish with a region championship, but then lost in the 3A semifinals to Spanish Fork. The 35-28 loss, with DH star quarterback Ty Rutledge practically dragging his injured leg into each huddle, was a bitter pill to swallow for Thunder coach Carl Franke and the Desert Hills faithful.

Desert Hills RB Bridger Cowdin is poised for a big season in 2013. File photo from Sept. 14, 2012. | Photo by Robert Hoppie, St. George News

“I get asked about it a lot and I tell people that we just have to learn from our experiences,” Franke said. “Yeah, there are a lot of things I wish I would have done differently. Every game last year there were things we could have done better. In that Spanish Fork game, Ty got injured on the fourth play of the game and by the end, his ankle was swollen to the size of a balloon. But I was proud of the way we competed. We were in a position to win that game.”

The Thunder were licking their chops at the opportunity of playing Dixie in the championship game. The Flyers had beaten them by three points earlier in the season in what Franke calls “our worst game of the year.”

But, as the coach said, the past is over.

“We’ve put in a lot of hard work, both the coaches and the players, so that if we are in that position again, we can finish it off right,” Franke said. “Everyone in the state has the same goal right now and that’s to win a championship. We know how difficult it is to win games in this region.”

Desert Hills certainly has some holes to fill, particularly Rutledge and tight end/defensive end Josh Anderson. But the Thunder also have a lot of talent returning from a team that went 8-4 and made a deep playoff run.

“Bridger Cowdin is electrifying with the ball in his hands,” said Franke, of his junior running back. “He is poised to have a huge year. Everyone in the region will be preparing to stop him.”

Cowdin, who averaged six yards a carry while rushing for 954 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore last season, is getting a lot of attention from college scouts already.

“The thing is, he’s just now really starting to mature and pick up some of the nuances of zone blocking,” Franke said. “He is something special.”

Having five returning starters on the offensive line back should also help Cowdin’s cause. DH is athletic, strong and physical up front with brothers Gabe and Lausii (Boogie) Sewell, Chipper Whatcott, Brock Doman and Justice Alo.

The one huge question mark will be at quarterback. With Rutledge gone, the battle was fierce between sophomore Nick Warmsley and junior Kody Allen. Warmsley won the job for now and will have a chance to succeed with a talented O-line in front of him and Cowdin behind him.

Head Coach: Carl Franke (2nd year, 8-4)
Last Season: 8-4, 5-1 in Region 9 (co-champs), State Semifinalist
Last Season PPG: 32.9; PAG: 18.5
Home Field: Thunder Stadium
Quarterbacks: Warmsley will start in the opener vs. hard-hitting Stansbury. The athletic Allen will be available as well.
Running backs: Cowdin is a D-1 recruit, while Franke said they will incorporate some pistol formation this season, occasionally with fullbacks Landon Broadhead and Matt Plumb in as well.
Receivers: Jordan Hokanson is a playmaker, though Franke said he needs Hokanson fully committed. “He has all the talent in the world, but sometimes it’s tough to get him focused.” Also, Taylor Houston will use some of that basketball speed of his to stretch the field. Move-in Braden Reber will also contribute.
Offensive line: Last year Franke started two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman and went to the state semis. The quintet of Sewell, Sewell, Whatcott, Doman and Alo are a year older and wiser now.
Defensive line: Boogie Sewell was very disruptive as just a sophomore last year and the Thunder are deep at D-line.
Linebackers: The linebacking corps looks downright menacing, with Sil Bundy in the middle and Gabe Sewell and Tucker Cowdin on the outside..
Defensive backs: Broadhead, Reber, Mason Palmer and Jacob Gabriel look to be the starters for this group.
Special teams: A couple of sophomores are fighting for the placekicking duties, with new ST coach Tim Miller giving a slight edge to Christian Cottle over Mason McDonald. Another soph, Hunter Spray, will do the punting.
Intangibles: A team that returns a star running back and its entire offensive line has got instant respect, no matter who plays quarterback. That, plus an impressive set of LBs prompted the media covering Region 9 (3AA South) to pick the Thunder to win it. The eyes of the state will be on the opener, a grudge match with Stansbury. Both are picked to be state contenders this year, with the Stallions beating DH 12-7 last year (mid-season) and the Thunder winning back in 2011 (a 26-7 playoff win in Stansbury).

Desert Hills Schedule
(Non-league difficulty B)
8/23 Stansbury at Desert Hills
8/30 Foothill, Nev. @ Desert Hills
9/06 Desert Hills @ West
9/13 Desert Hills @ Cedar
9/20 Payson @ Desert Hills
9/27 Desert Hills @ Pine View
10/4 Dixie @ Desert Hills
10/10 bye
10/16 Desert Hills @ Snow Canyon
10/25 Hurricane @ Desert Hills

2013 3AA South Region Media prediction:
Rank  Team (1st vts)   total points

1. Desert Hills (4)   51 points
2. Pine View (1)  44 points
3. Hurricane (2) 41 points
4. Dixie (1)  38 points
5. Snow Canyon    18 points
6. Cedar    16 points
7. Payson    15 points

* Editor’s note: This week the STGNews sports department previews the new 3AA South Region. Preview schedule: Monday — Cedar and Payson; Tuesday — Snow Canyon and Pine View; Wednesday — Dixie and Hurricane; Thursday — Desert Hills; Friday — Gameday preview caps.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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