ST. GEORGE — In the first week of Region 9 football games, Dixie will be taking on crosstown rival Desert Hills Friday night.
Desert Hills, which finished second in Region 9 last year, is looking to avenge their 21-7 loss against Dixie last season in the final region game of the year. Dixie finished first in the region standings last season and went on to make a run deep into the class 4A playoffs, eventually losing in the final 4 to Orem.
“We don’t focus too much on the emotions behind who we’re playing,” Desert Hills head coach Mark Murdoch said. “We just have to get after it and play it just like any other game.”
Dixie is currently ranked No. 9 in the state of Utah and No. 1 in class 4A. Dixie lost their first game of the year in a close contest against Springville by a score of 21-20. Dixie quickly bounced back, winning their second game at home against Roy, 41-21. It is also important to note that Dixie has the toughest strength of schedule rating among Class 4A teams, according to Maxpreps.
“Start of region play, crosstown rival, everybody will be playing their best football tomorrow, so it should go down to the wire. It’s a big game for us,” Dixie head coach Blaine Monkres said. “We want to get regions started off on the right foot with a win. I’m sure both teams are going to bring their A game, and it should be a fun night.”
Monkres mentioned how important the offensive line will be Friday night.
“That’s going to be huge,” he said. “Obviously, they’re going to have to protect Reggie (Graff), but I don’t know if we’ll be full go tomorrow on the offensive line. We seem to get one back and lose another one. It’s football, and it’s next man up, so whoever goes in is going to have to do their job and make sure Reggie has time to throw it and open some holes for our running backs.”
Maxpreps currently has Desert Hills ranked No. 48 in the state and No. 11 in Class 4A. The Thunder played their first game at home and their second on the road against Alta.
The Thunder are looking to improve after the loss, and a key to the game will be turnovers.
“We’ve got to hold onto the ball. We had four or five turnovers last week, and that was really what cost us,” Murdoch said. “The Thunder did give up four turnovers against Alta. Three of them were fumbles recovered by Alta, and one was an interception.
Both teams have versatile quarterbacks in Logan Wilstead (Desert Hills) and Graff (Dixie).
Wilstead has 661 total yards on the season so far, with 504 passing yards and 157 rushing yards. On his passes, Wilstead has completed 34 of his 63 attempts, with only two interceptions, averaging 252 passing yards per game. Wilstead excels in the pocket as well as in the running game. Those 157 rushing yards were earned on 21 carries, where he averaged 7.5 yards per run.
“Our offense kind of runs and goes as he does, and he’s going to have a lot of decisions to make,” Murdoch said. “If he can play well, that’ll put us in a good position to be successful.”
Wilstead’s versatility opens up more options for the Thunder on the offensive side of things.
“If they have to spend more time game planning on him, then that opens up other avenues for us,” Murdoch said. “We’re lucky to have him.”
When approaching Wilstead’s game, Monkres likened him to his own quarterback.
“Same thing as facing Reggie,” he said. “You have to be aware of him. You have to account for him all the time on offense. Hopefully, mix up coverages on defense so he has a hard time finding his receivers, and make sure you keep him in the pocket so he doesn’t take off on you.”
Wilstead is not the only dual threat quarterback that will be on the field during Friday’s game. Graff has 551 total yards going into the game, with 311 of those being passing yards. With 155.5 passing yards per game, Graff has completed 19 of his 39 total attempts. Three of those attempts were interceptions, all coming in the first game of the season, but Graff settled down in Dixie’s second game of the year against Roy. The Flyers’ quarterback went 11-21 with no interceptions and 222 passing yards in that game. Graff also has racked up 240 rushing yards on 26 carries, averaging 9.2 yards per carry.
Monkres was complimentary of his senior quarterback but mentioned that it is a team sport.
“He’s the perfect guy for our offense. He is a dual threat guy who can throw it and run it. On top of that, he’s a good kid and a good leader,” Monkres said. “He wouldn’t be having the season he’s having without a great offensive line and receiver who could catch the ball. This is a team effort, but he’s a good football player.”
Friday’s game between the top two teams from Region 9 last year is sure to be a must-see.
Desert Hills and Dixie will play at Desert Hills High School, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
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