HURRICANE — Defense was the theme of the night at Tigers Stadium and nobody is better at it than Desert Hills.
The two best defenses in the region squared off Friday night with the Thunder pulling away in the second half for a 21-3 victory over Hurricane. With the win, Desert Hills clinched the top seed heading into the state playoffs and pulled even with Pine View for a final region record of 5-1.
“We forced them into some tough down and distances,” DH coach Carl Franke said. “We knew we would wear them down. We played pretty physical and dominated the line of scrimmage.”
It was not a pretty game, with 19 penalties and a combined offensive output of barely 400 yards. But that seems to be the way the defending-state champs like it. The Thunder actually trailed 3-0 at the half, similar to last week’s 3-0 third quarter deficit to Snow Canyon.
But, as he has all year, sophomore Nephi Sewell made a game-changing play in the third quarter. The Tigers started the second half with the lead and the ball, but were forced to punt after one first down. Sewell, who had returned four punts for touchdowns already this season, caught the Hurricane kick at about his own 40-yard line and tore up the left sideline. After breaking a couple of tackles, the speedster cut back toward the middle of the field and broke three more tackles before stumbling past the goal line for six points.
“He’s just spark plug — he’s huge for us,” Franke said. “I can’t believe that teams still kick to him. He’s the only guy back there. He’s a kid that has ability to take anything back to the house.
That score gave Desert Hills a 7-3 lead with 9:19 to go in the third quarter and seemed to land momentum squarely in the Thunder’s court. After another Hurricane punt, Nick Warmsley threw a perfectly placed pass to Mason Palmer along the DH sideline for a 39-yard gain to set up another score. After Bridger Cowdin punched it in from 9-yards out, the Thunder led 14-3 midway through the third quarter.
After a couple of Hurricane first downs, DH forced a third third quarter punt. This time the Thunder took their time marching up the field. Cowdin again scored from a couple of yards out to cap an 80-yard drive that used more than five minutes and extended into the early part of the fourth quarter. With the TD, and the excellent play of the Desert Hills defense, the game was all but over at 21-3 with 10:19 left to play.
Hurricane’s first-half lead came on a nifty two-minute drill late in the second quarter. The Tigers drove 56 yards in seven plays after taking over on a failed fourth down conversion attempt by DH at the Hurricane 25. On fourth down and with 31 seconds left until halftime, JD Stanworth booted a 36-yard field goal for the only points of the first half.
The teams each had 114 yards of offense and seven first downs in the first half. But the second half was another story. D-Hills out-gained the Tigers 146-27 after intermission and never allowed the Tigers near the red zone.
Warmsley passed for 191 yards and Cowdin rushed for 65 yards in the win. Palmer was the favored target in the pass game for DH. He had five catches for 89 yards.
Hurricane also passed the ball relatively well. Kaden Langston was 8 of 13 for 112 yards. Noah Elison caught four of those passes for 64 yards.
The Thunder 9-1 overall and 5-1 in region, take next week off as the No. 1-seed and will face the winner of the Snow Canyon-Bear River game on Nov. 7. The Bears and Warriors tangle in a first-round game next Friday in Garland.
Hurricane, 5-5 overall and 4-2 in region, settles for the No. 3-seed and will host a first-round playoff game next week. Park City, 2-8 and the sixth-place team from the 3AA North, will visit Tigers Stadium. The Miners were 1-5 in region play, including Friday night’s 35-26 loss to Juan Diego.
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