ST. GEORGE – It was not the blowout many were expecting. Dixie escaped with a slim victory over the visiting Bear River Bears 26-25 Friday evening at Walt Brooks Stadium, earning the Flyers a trip to the state 3AA semifinals.
Hobbs Nyberg hit Max Brown with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 9:25 left in the game and Thayne Reid nailed the extra point to give the Flyers the lead. Dixie’s defense made it stand up the rest of the game in Dixie’s narrow win.
But it was the last 32 seconds of the first half that turned out to be perhaps the most important of the game. Dixie trailed 14-10 to the Bear River Bears and, despite their 10 points, had not moved the ball effectively on offense the entire half.
Bear River had just intercepted the ball and had it at the 32-yard line. On the next play, Bear quarterback Kaygen Canfield came under pressure, but was able to get rid of the ball before getting sacked. However, the ball went where there was no one to catch it, resulting in a crushing intentional grounding that backed the ball up to the 10-yard line.
On the next play, Canfield mishandled a handoff and the ball went flying toward the Bear end zone. Bear running back Gage Kaneko got to the ball shortly before Flyer defensive end Tyson Fisher wrapped him up for the safety.
The Bears had to kick from their 20. Dixie ran the ball back to its 46-yard line, but another 15 yards were tacked on for a helmet-to-helmet contact. On the first play in the series, quarterback Hobbs Nyberg dropped back, looked right, pump-faked, turned left and let fly a perfect rainbow into the hands of receiver Josh Topham for a 39-yard touchdown pass. Dixie took the 19-14 lead into the locker room.
It was an auspicious finish to an otherwise dismal first half for the Dixie offense. Prior to Nyberg’s last touchdown pass, the offense had a total of 29 yards, with only 5 coming on the ground.
“Sometimes things go your way,” said Dixie head coach Andy Stokes. “Our pass rush disrupted them all game. You can credit both that penalty and the safety to our pass rush. It took us awhile to figure things out on offense with Barben out.”
Stokes did make an adjustment at quarterback. Nyberg took over for starter Nate Mahi, and moved Peyton Wilgar to running back to take over for Nyberg.
“Their defense knew that this would be our quarterback’s first start no matter who was back there,” said Stokes. “We switched things up because what we had was not working.”
“The only time I have ever played quarterback is in the wildcat formation,” said Nyberg. “I was pretty nervous back there the entire game.”
Dixie started on offense in the second half, but an interception turned the ball to the Bears at the Dixie 24-yard line. The Dixie D, which had stiffened toward the end of the first half, kept Bear River far from the end zone. Bear River had to settle for a 42-yard field goal to cut it to 19-17 with 7:07 remaining in the third quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Dixie took over at its own 10-yard line. A miscue on a snap led to a Flyer fumble and the Bears started their drive in the red zone at the 10-yard line. Kaneko scored from 4-yards out three plays later. Canfield’s pass to receiver Gunner Sorenson on the two-point conversion put the Bears up 25-19 with 1:00 left in the third.
Dixie responded on the next series. Starting the drive on the 27-yard line, Nyberg intertwined a couple of passes to Topham with some rushes by running back Wilgar to drive the length of the field. Nyberg then found Brown on the left side for the 9-yard touchdown catch. Reid’s PAT kick was true and the lead had gone back to the Flyers 26-25 with 9:25 remaining in the game.
On Bear River’s next drive, Canfield was intercepted by Malakai Fakahua at midfield. Canfield had released the ball on the scramble just before Fisher brought him down.
“It is pretty nice having a D-line that rushes the quarterback like ours does,” said Fakahua. “The last two interceptions were both caused by our defensive line.”
Dixie took over at the Bears 47-yard line. Nyberg drove the team 25 yards in seven plays. On third down, however, the Bears reciprocated with their own interception in the end zone by defensive back Zach Showell, who returned it to the 9-yard line where the Bears took over on offense.
Dixie’s Jake Staheli then tackled Kaneko for a 6-yard loss on first down. A pass-interference on the next play gave the Bears a second-and-1, but a sack by Fisher on the next play put the Bears in a definite passing situation. Canfield dropped back to pass. Once again Fisher closed in and Canfield threw the ball before he wanted to. The result was an interception by Nyberg at the Bear River 48-yard line with 2:07 remaining.
“Jake (Staheli) and I were on the same side,” said Fisher. “They could only double team one of us. So the other one usually got into the backfield.”
Though the Bears were out of timeouts, Dixie would still need to get a first down in order to run out the clock. That first down play came on a third-and-4. Nyberg broke through and appeared headed for the end zone. But he held up around the 20-yard line and went down.
“The clock was more important than the score,” said Nyberg. “I saw the open lane and I could have scored, but I heard my teammates yelling ‘Don’t score,’ So I went down instead.”
So rather than giving the ball back to the Bears up by eight with a little over one minute remaining, the Flyers were satisfied taking the one-point victory and running out the clock.
Early in the first quarter the Bears were the first to get on the board. On their initial drive, they drove 50 yards for the score. Canfield scored on a broken pass play scrambling 19 yards for the touchdown.
After a Dixie punt, the Bears drove the field again, but this time the Dixie defense did not break. The Bears drive ended in a missed 40-yard field goal. The teams then traded punts, but on the punt by Bear River, Nyberg watched the ball take a high bounce past him. He then scooped it on the bounce, feinted left, then bounced right and ran 83 yards up the Dixie sideline to paydirt. On the return were three key blocks by his teammates that kept him untouched. The score was all tied 7-7 with 9:07 left in the first.
On the Bears next possession, Canfield fumbled on an orchestrated quarterback draw that gave the Flyers the ball at the Bears 27-yard line. After a first down, the drive stalled and Dixie had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Reid. Dixie had its first lead, 10-7, with 5:32 remaining in the half.
The Bears responded on their next drive, starting at their 42-yard line. Canfield found receiver Rilee Summers on a stop-and-go route that covered 40 yards to give the Bears a 14-10 lead with 3:33 remaining in the first half.
Dixie sandwiched a missed Bear field goal with drives that ended in turnovers to set up the final 32 seconds of the half.
Individually for Dixie, Nyberg gained 103 yards on 23 carries. He completed 5 of 9 passes for 75 yards. Topham led the receivers with 3 catches for 55 yards.
Dixie improves to 7-3 overall and will face Region 9 rival Pine View next week in the state semifinals at Southern Utah University on Friday night at 5 p.m. Bear River finishes the year at 8-4.
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