SALT LAKE CITY — It’s not too often the two teams playing for a championship have a combined nine losses.
And that’s no knock on the 9-4 Dixie Flyers and the 8-5 Hurricane Tigers as they prepare for Friday morning’s 3AA State Championship game (11 a.m. on KJZZ-TV and ESPN SportsRadio 106.1 FM). If anything, it’s a tribute to how far these two teams have come.
Hurricane, which beat Dixie 34-14 nearly two months ago, has been streaky. The Tigers started the season just 1-2, but then promptly went on a four-game winning streak. At 4-0 in region play, Hurricane was sitting at the top of the heap and looked like a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
Then things got messy. The Tigers struggled on offense in losses to Pine View (29-14) and Desert Hills (21-3), sandwiched around a long road trip and loss at Logan.
To say Hurricane was hitting the postseason playing its best football would be a mistake.
“We learned some things in those losses,” HHS coach Steve Pearson said. “Even though we lost to Desert Hills, we gained a lot of confidence in the first half of that game and we couldn’t wait to play them again.”
Since that loss to D-Hills, Hurricane has won three straight playoff games, including a cathartic win over Juan Diego in the quarters and a little vengeance against the Thunder in last week’s 3AA Semifinals, a 17-14 Tigers win.
But Dixie presents an interesting situation for Hurricane as the Tigers beat Dixie by 20 in their previous meeting. Revenge or breaking a curse won’t be the motivation. Actually, the Tigers are 4-1 in their last five games against Dixie.
But then again, this is the championship game and that should be motivation enough.
As for Dixie, the Flyers were 2-4 heading into October, including consecutive region losses to Pine View and Hurricane. To make matters worse, the Flyers were getting roasted by everyone on defense and Dixie had big, bad Desert Hills up next on the schedule.
What happened next was stunning to many region insiders. Dixie beat Desert Hills 17-16 and the defense played the game of the year.
“That was certainly a turning point of the season,” Dixie coach Blaine Monkres said. “Most of the year, our offense was having to make up for our defense. In that game, our offense didn’t play that well, but it was our defense that came to the rescue.”
Dixie hasn’t been beaten since. The offense, averaging nearly 40 points a game, is now complimented by a defense that, while not spectacular, is making big plays at big moments. During Dixie’s 38-28 win over Pine View in the semis, Dixie had a goal line stand, a fumble recovery that set up a touchdown and an interception that set up the game-clinching field goal.
So the two teams that started the year a bit slow will face off as the two hottest teams in the state.
It’s no secret that the Tigers will try to grind out the yardage on the ground with its Wing-T offense and chew up precious clock time on that Rice-Eccles Stadium scoreboard.
It’s also no secret that Dixie will use a balanced attack that will feature Ammon Takau and Tre Miller.
But the biggest stat — the one that may ultimately determine which team hoists the gold trophy on its shoulders after the contest is over — is the one the two teams were so good at in the semifinals. Neither team turned the ball over in the nippy Salt Lake air. Dixie was able to edge Pine View by going plus-four in the turnover battle. Hurricane upset Desert Hills by going plus-two.
It may be a bit cliched, but the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game.
With two teams this even, that’s something fans can take to the bank.
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