ST. GEORGE — After beating Dixie in what proved to be the biggest game of the season to that point for Pine View, they match up with Desert Hills. The Thunder are tied with Dixie for second place and are preparing to give the Panthers a run for a share at the region title.
Desert Hills suffered a loss to Dixie to open up region play, but the Thunder have improved immensely since that game and have proven to be one of the most potent offenses in Region 9. If the Thunder are able to beat Pine View on the road, there would be a three-way tie for first place in the region.
Beating Pine View is something that Desert Hills is no stranger to. Last year, the two teams battled it out, with the Thunder coming back in the fourth quarter to tie the game, eventually beating the Panthers in triple overtime.
Thunder head coach Mark Murdoch is looking forward to the game, but his team is preparing just as they would for any opponent.
“Really, we try to just prepare for all teams the same,” Murdoch said. “We watch the film, we try to come up with a game plan and we try to come up with things that we think will be successful. We just do our practices and do our stuff. We want it to feel like any other week.”
Pine View played Hurricane last week, and there was some worry about the Panthers having a little bit of a slump after the big win against Dixie, but Pine View ended up dominating Hurricane, winning 56-19. This allowed the team to have a tuneup game before gearing up for another top opponent in the region.
Coach Ben Meier broke down how practice has been this week leading up to the game.
“Real well,” Meier said. “The boys are excited this week. You have just a little bit more energy when you’re coming out to practice. They know this is a big game for them. Practice has stayed the same. Offensively, we’re trying to pick out some things that we feel like will do best against them and then the same for our defense. Practice has been awesome this week.”
The Pine View offense has been electric this season, led by quarterback Macloud Crowton who is complemented by a great receiving core and a solid run game. They are a hard team to stop, but Meier sees the offensive line being a major key in Friday’s game. Desert Hills has a blitz-heavy defense, which will test the Panthers line. Giving Crowton time to make good decisions in the pocket will only better that explosive offense.
While the Thunder can put pressure on their opponents, they have given up a fair amount of points this season, including 55 points to Cedar in an overtime victory. With a 56-55 win, the Thunder offense went blow-for-blow with the Reds. Logan Wilstead has mentioned that no one can stop their offense, but their defense will decide their games, and Murdoch agrees.
“I think that’s what has been shown all season,” Murdoch said. “I have a lot of confidence in our guys and our defense has been getting better every week. We’re really confident that they’re going to be better this week. They’ve been taking little steps each week, and this week is another big step. I think if we can get both sides of the ball matching up then we’re going to be a tough team to stop going forward.”
Pine View has a similar strategy, put up as many points as possible, and force other teams to keep up with them. Their defense will play a big role in their game, just as it did against Dixie.
“Offensively, we obviously want to put points up on the board like we have been doing and put pressure on them to try and keep up with us,” Meier said. “Defensively, we want to, more than anything, try to make them one-dimensional. If we can take away the run game and contain that as much as we can, forcing them to throw or vice-versa. They can put points on the board, so if we can limit them any way possible on either side that’s what we want to be able to do.”
Desert Hills started the year 0-3 and has stayed in the loop through Region 9 play, allowing the team to stay in the race for first place in the region.
“It’s awesome,” Murdoch said. “We started 0-3, and our guys have just been getting better each week, which we knew that they would. Like I told them all along, it doesn’t really matter how we start, it’s getting hot at the right time. I think we’re starting to figure that out and get guys healthy. It’s fun to be able to have that opportunity that we could have a share of it, so our guys are excited.”
The Thunder have struggled with penalties all year and that will be a crucial part of their game on Friday. If the Thunder can eliminate mental errors, they’ll be in good shape.
“Just the little things that are mental, false starts, offsides, holding onto the ball and those types of things,” Murdoch said. “If we can eliminate those, then we’re in a really good position, because really that’s what has been holding our offense back. It hasn’t as much been lack of execution, a lot of it has been the mental mistakes that has been holding us back.”
With a win on Friday, Pine View will be in sole possession of first place. A win would also possibly move the Panthers into a higher RPI ranking, meaning a higher seed in the state tournament. A Region 9 championship is the goal for Pine View.
“That’s always a goal that every team sets out to do, and this region, Region 9, every year, it always seems like a very tight race between two or three teams down to the end,” Meier said. “We just so happen to have our foot in the door, and we just want to make sure that we secure that region championship this week. We want to accomplish that goal Friday night.”
This game will prove to be a battle for both teams, and Murdoch sees his team competing in a great game.
“More than anything that our guys compete. I know there’s kind of some history in that they’re always tough games. We kind of go back and forth and trade blows. We know that it’s going to be physical, we know that there’s going to be points scored and that it’s going to be fun. Hopefully the game is decided on the field and not because of mental mistakes or anything else.”
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