ST. GEORGE — It’s been more than a year since Snow Canyon and Desert Hills met on the soccer pitch and nearly that long since either have suited up entirely.
On Tuesday night, the rivalry picked up right where it left off in an emphatic 4-1 Snow Canyon Warriors win on the road.
“It’s big,” senior Jake Wittwer told St. George News. “They’ve been one of our biggest rivals for a while now. It feels good.”
It was the first time Snow Canyon beat Desert Hills in nearly four years. The Warriors last topped the Thunder on April 4, 2017, winning 1-0. After that, the teams tied in both 2018 contests before the Thunder took the next three in 2019 and 2020, allowing only one goal in the process.
Those results paralleled the passing of the Region 9 torch from Snow Canyon, the league’s champion in 2017 and 2018, to Desert Hills, who took the title in 2019 and was undefeated before the season was halted in 2020.
On Tuesday, the Warriors took their first step in reclaiming their crown.
In the first half, both teams got their share of looks on net. Desert Hills put junior goalkeeper Xavier Pinna to work, peppering him with opportunities. Snow Canyon did the same on the other side, but neither found the back of the net.
Starting the second half, the Warriors relied on Pinna even more. The Thunder had the Warriors pinned down in their defensive half and continued challenging the defenders and Pinna. Snow Canyon head coach Zac Hales credited it to jitters and excitement from playing for the first time in nearly a year.
“I think we just came in so amped up that we just fell into playing more of an athletic style,” Hales said. “It fit Desert Hills better than us because we haven’t been working on anything like that. We had to calm down, get back into our system. Once we did that we were able to get a good foothold in the game.”
The Warriors got more than a foothold.
After finding successful lanes to drive the ball up the field, Snow Canyon scored four straight goals in around 20 minutes. Wittwer converted first on a cross over the middle he took out of the air.
Shortly after, sophomore Brayan Hernandez — on his birthday — took a feed from Wittwer on the right side down low in front of the net, beating the Thunder keeping to the left. Senior Dubbie Cannon cleaned up after a save attempt by Desert Hills squirted out of the keeper’s hands off a corner kick around the 12 minute mark. Just four minutes later, Wittwer fed fellow senior Sanders Esplin for a goal of his own after Esplin got the assist on Wittwer’s goal to start the run.
Desert Hills would respond with a goal of their own off the leg of Bridger Heaton, just eeking past the goal line after a couple of other chances went off Pinna.
The Warriors were assessed two yellow cards during goal celebrations. The first came after Wittwer’s goal, as he looked to the Thunder sideline holding his finger to his mouth, shushing them.
“They were just talking crap and stuff, trying to get in my head,” Wittwer said. “It didn’t work.”
The second came following the third goal. It was not immediately clear what action triggered it, but emotions were high. It was an overflow from not just overcoming a rival, but doing so in the context of the pandemic and finally getting back on the field.
Snow Canyon lost 2020’s region opener against Desert Hills but believed last year was the year to return to form. They promoted four juniors that were already all-region players to their senior seasons. The Warriors were looking forward to a second chance against the Thunder that didn’t come until those players graduated.
“I was hungry for that second game where we could come out and show them,” Wittwer said. “It hurt. Honestly, I felt like last year we had a really good team and we lost almost our whole starting lineup. I knew we could come strong this year.”
Both teams will play next week in non-regional competition before resuming the Region 9 calendar on March 16. They are scheduled to meet again at Snow Canyon on April 9.
Here are the scores from the three other games on opening night for Region 9 soccer.
Hurricane 3, Canyon View 0
The Tigers defended their home pitch in their opener with a shutout by goalkeeper Kandon Heaton.
Gunnar Woods scored the opener off a pass from Hatch. Josh Stewart scored two goals in the second half, the first assisted by Hatch and the second by Caleb Henderson.
Hurricane hosts non-region Springville at 3 p.m. on Thursday. Canyon View travels to Beaver at the same time.
Dixie 4, Cedar 2
Jorge Quintero scored a hat trick as the Flyers flew past Cedar at home. The teams entered the half knotted at 1-1. The Flyers rattled off three goals in the second half for the win.
Tristan Yapi scored both goals for Cedar.
“We played well and had a few more chances,” Cedar head coach Scott Kamachi said. “This was a great game for us to build off of.”
Dixie and Cedar both play on the road in non-region contests on Friday next.
Crimson Cliffs 4, Pine View 1
The Mustangs came from behind on the road with a four-goal second half outburst.
Jared Casas got the Panthers on the board in the first half, taking that lead into the midway point. The second half, however, was all Crimson Cliffs. Ramon Mitchell Squires, Camden Mitchell and Kai Klingonsmith all scored for the Mustangs.
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