ST. GEORGE – Two touchdowns, a blocked punt and five sacks — It’s fair to say that Desert Hills defensive ends Jake Wagner and James Migo put up some dream stats against the Uintah Utes offense. The bookends led a brilliant defensive effort in the Thunder’s playoff opener, winning 40-7.
On the Thunder’s opening drive, quarterback Nick Warmsley drove the team 68 yards to the Utes’ 2 yard line. However, running back Bridger Cowdin would cough up the ball on a first-and-goal. Enter the Thunder defense. Redemption. Linebacker Sil Bundy punched the ball loose from Ute receiver Haden Bunderson and the Thunder offense was back in business. Cowdin would not fumble his next carry as he plowed into the end zone for the early 6-0 lead.
On the Utes’ next possession, quarterback Braxton Coonis was flushed out of the pocket by Wagner and Lausii Sewell. As he scrambled, Coonis lost control, then possession, of the football and it caromed forward into the hands of Migo. The junior from American Samoa had 20 yards of open field in front of him. As he sprinted to the end zone his head went faster than his feet and it appeared that he would not make it to the end zone before losing his footing or being caught. The last 10 yards, Migo practically stumbled all the way to the end zone.
“I don’t know what happened,” said a smiling Migo. “I did not get hit. I just lost my balance. But I made it in.”
After a failed two-point conversion, the Thunder had a 12-0 advantage to close out the first quarter.
On the Utes’ first possession of the second quarter, Coonis was able to direct his team 68 yards, most of it gained on two screen passes to running back Tyson Colton. However the Thunder defense held and the Utes had to settle for a 31-yard field goal attempt. Several Thunder defenders broke through the Ute wall, and Gabe Sewell blocked the Spencer Seitz attempt. Wagner scooped up the ball and ran 85 yards for the third Thunder touchdown.
“I did not think I was going to make it,” said Wagner. “I could feel myself slowing up and the Ute defender did dive and get my legs inside the 10-yard line. But I was able to break free and get the touchdown.”
Tack on the Hunter Spray PAT and the Thunder led 19-0.
On the ensuing possession, the Utes were able to move the ball down the field, taking advantage of several Desert Hills penalties, three of which led to Ute first downs. At the Thunder 42-yard line, Coonis found wide receiver Hunter Connelly down the middle of the field for a touchdown, making it 19-7 just before halftime. That would be not only the Utes’ last and only score, but also the last time that they would be able to move the ball meaningfully except at the end of the game when Desert Hills had many of their second and third-string defense in the game.
Before the first half ended though, Desert Hills would get one last score from running back Landen Broadhead from two yards out. The score was preceded by several pounding Gabe Sewell runs. The two-point conversion run by Bridger Cowdin gave the Thunder a formidable 27-7 halftime lead.
The second half would be all Desert Hills. Both of the Thunder scoring drives in the second half had heavy dosages of Warmsley yardage.
“Most of my reads are done pre-snap,” said Warmsley. “I was able to get big chunks of yards because the offensive line had great blocking. Then we were able to capitalize with Gabe Sewell and Bridger Cowdin scoring.”
Cowdin would score first in the second half on a 16-yard scamper through the right side of the line. With Spray’s PAT, the Thunder led 34-7.
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After Wagner blocked a punt on the Utes’ next possession, Sewell would score the final touchdown shortly after the fourth quarter began to make it 40-7. The remainder of the game would see punts from both teams as Desert Hills emptied their bench to give some younger players time on the field.
Warmsley finished the night with 124 yards rushing on 16 carries. Sewell had 73 yards on just eight carries, while Cowdin finished with 60 yards on 11 carries. Bundy led the defense with 17 tackles. Ethan Del Toro and Zach Fuchs finished with 13 and 10 tackles respectively.
The Thunder will now hit the road to face Stansbury, a team they beat in the first game of the season, 12-0.
“I’m not sure you can use that game as a measuring stick,” said Franke. “In the beginning of the year, both teams were just relying on their defenses as the offenses were coming along.”
If the Thunder can repeat the defensive performance they had tonight, Stansbury will have a tough time scoring.
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