ST. GEORGE – With a potential game-tying field goal off the table, Snow Canyon was out of time and out of downs. The Warriors took one last heave to the end zone — and struck gold.
Jackson Nowatzke hit Tyson Deland with a 34-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left to help Snow Canyon stun Desert Hills 17-13 Friday night at Thunder Stadium, lifting the Warriors into the state semifinals.
It was fourth-and-14 with 28 seconds remaining. The Snow Canyon Warriors trailed by three points on the road at the Desert Hills 34-yard line. The Thunder had knocked Snow Canyon out of field goal position on the previous play.
“I looked at Coach (Tim) Nowatzke,” said Warrior head coach Marcus Matua. “He told me we were out of (kicker Andrew) Day’s range. I told him to go for it.”
An Andrew Day field goal would have been from at least 49 yards away. Instead, quarterback Nowatzke took the snap and dropped back. Facing very little pressure, he stepped up and made the high arching throw to the right corner of the end zone. The defensive back was in position, but his timing was off as wide receiver Tyson Deland grabbed the pretty pass just inside the right sideline. Snow Canyon celebrated its first win, 17-13, over Desert Hills in several years.
“We beat them their first year as a school,” said Matua. “But it has been a long drought since then.”
The two teams played each other even for most of the game. Both teams committed two turnovers. Snow Canyon was able to capitalize on Desert Hills turnovers, turning a muffed punt into their first seven points, a 17-yard touchdown pass from Nowatzke to TJ Taimi in the first quarter.
Desert Hills answered on the next possession. Quinn Kiser got the first of his two touchdowns with a seven-yard run off right tackle.
The only scoring for either team in the second quarter came on a 41-yard field goal from Day. The Warriors took the lead of a low scoring game 10-7 into halftime.
“Both defenses played well tonight,” said Matua. “Desert Hills is disciplined and well-coached. They don’t make mistakes and rarely give up big plays. This is a big win for us against a great team.”
The Thunder took their first and only lead of the game in the third quarter on Kiser’s second touchdown, this time from 5-yards out. However, the holder on the PAT mishandled a low snap. The broken play caused the holder to attempt a pass that failed and more importantly, only put the Warriors in a three-point deficit.
Both teams would possess the ball three more times each before Desert Hills punted with 1:36 remaining on the clock. Taimi’s return got the ball to midfield with 1:28 remaining. A crucial scramble by Nowatzke got the Warriors a first down.
“That play was critical,” said Coach Nowatzke. “They had been pressuring us all night with their rush and that backed them off. They knew another rush like that put us in field goal position.”
“My receivers are taller than Desert Hills’ defensive backs,” Jackson Nowatzke said. “My offensive line gave me plenty of time. I just threw it high and to the corner of the end zone. Tyson did the rest.”
The score gave the Warriors an improbable four-point victory after falling to this same team 35-0 just four weeks ago.
“We made some defensive adjustments,” said Matua. “Last time they ran all over us. We saw some things and tonight we limited what they like to do. “
Desert Hills outgained the Warriors 343-231. Individually, Josh Barnes led the Warriors in rushing with 83 yards on 20 carries. For the Thunder, Nick Warmsley completed 13 of 22 passes for 178 yards.
The Thunder finished their injury-riddled season at 5-5. Desert Hills lost playmaker Nephi Sewell on the first series of the season. Two weeks ago, they lost two-way playmaker Zak Fuchs for the season.
“They have had some trials this season,” said Matua. “But for Coach (Carl) Franke, it is always reload, not rebuild. They will come back strong next year.”
The prize for surviving this game is taking on Logan, which has been dominant all year.
“Our journey’s not over,” Matua told his team after the game. “We know who we are. To our fans, jump on our bandwagon. Our ride is not over.”
The Warriors improve to 6-5 with two straight playoff wins on the road. They will face Logan next Thursday at Rice Eccles Stadium at the U of U in Salt Lake City. Kickoff is 6:30 p.m.
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