CEDAR CITY – With Desert Hills running back Bridger Cowdin among the rushing leaders in the state, Cedar’s coaching staff decided the Redmen were going to make someone else beat them. Nick Warmsley and Jordan Hokanson were okay with that.
Warmsley threw four touchdown passes, two to Hokanson, and the Thunder defense was stifling as Desert Hills beat Cedar 25-0 Friday night in the 3AA South Region opener.
Rain fell during most of the game, but it didn’t seem to bother Warmsley, who passed for 211 yards and had no interceptions. Hokanson, the senior wideout, caught six passes for 114 yards and had a 55-yard punt return.
“I told the guys early in the game that we were going to have to pass the ball if we were going to win,” Thunder coach Carl Franke said. “We had some good match-ups for our receivers and Nick was able to stay in the pocket and get some clean throws. He threw it pretty well tonight.”
Warmsley, just a sophomore, came into the game with just 178 yards and no touchdowns passing in the season’s first three games.
“Tonight he played more like the Nick I know,” Franke said. “I know it’s tough when you’re a sophomore, you’re just trying to get your legs underneath you. By no means has he figured it all out, but he’s coming along.”
In a scoreless defensive war in the first half, it was the DH punter, of all people, that tipped the scales in the Thunder’s favor. Mason MacDonald, a junior, made two huge plays that got Desert Hills rolling.
Facing a fourth and 12 at their own 28-yard line, DH set up in punt formation. MacDonald scooped up a low snap off the grass, but then had his punt attempt blocked. The tipped ball went straight up in the air. MacDonald located the kick and caught it on the fly, then sprinted around the right end for a 27-yard gain and a first down.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Franke said. “Mason reacted well, catching the ball, then did what most kids would do – ran to daylight.”
Despite the big play, the Desert Hills offense stalled again and they set up to punt at the Cedar 46-yard line. MacDonald spied uncovered teammate Jacob Gabriel on the right sideline and threw the ball instead of punting. The low throw was snagged by Gabriel, who turned and sprinted just past the first down marker at the Cedar 34.
A few plays later, DH broke into the scoring column with a Warmsley-to-Mason Palmer TD pass from six yards out. With the two MacDonald plays and a grind-it-out offense, the Thunder burned more than nine minutes of game clock. The Palmer TD came with 3:14 left in the half.
DH’s next drive was just the opposite. After holding Cedar to a three-and-out, Hokanson fielded a Cedar punt at his own 22-yard line and evaded tacklers down the right sideline all the way to the Redmen’s 23.
After his big return, Hokanson lined up on first down on the left sideline and ran a fly pattern into the end zone where Warmsley hit him in stride for six.
“Hokanson had a great game,” Franke said. “He was animated and really into it tonight.”
The score was 13-0 at the half and Cedar had managed just 36 yards and one first down in the first two quarters.
Hokanson got his second TD midway through the third quarter. After an exchange of punts, Warmsley found Hokanson on a slant play for about 12 yards. But the senior speedster absorbed a hit from two Cedar defenders and sprinted 40 yards to make it 19-0.
Cedar finally got its second first down on the next drive when Brecken Lewis hit Jeff Rogers for a 36-yard catch and run. But DH forced a punt at midfield and the Thunder put the game away on the next play when Warmsley hit Braden Reber in stride on a corner pass and the speedy Reber raced away from the Cedar defenders for a 77-yard TD.
“We’re not going to light up the scoreboard, but I really believe in our style of offense,” Franke said. “We want to possess the ball, run the clock and keep the other team’s offense on the sideline. If we keep good field position, then we can lean on our defense a little.”
Cedar ended up with just five first downs. The Redmen did get inside the DH 5-yard line twice, but a fumble and a loss on downs ended the two threats.
The Thunder, who out-gained Cedar 324-138, move to 4-0 with the win and more importantly, 1-0 in the new 3AA South Region. Desert Hills plays at home vs. Payson next Friday.
Cedar, 1-3 overall and 0-1 in region, travels to Hurricane next week.
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