ST. GEORGE – The only mystery surrounding the game between Desert Hills and Cedar Wednesday night was the seed in which the Thunder would enter the state playoffs.
Ty Rutledge and Co. quickly put any doubt to rest as Desert Hills cruised to a 42-14 victory over the Redmen to claim its first Region 9 football title in school history. And while getting a trophy to add to the case is always fun, winning the outright region title definitely has perks far greater than a piece of hardware. The region champs also get two consecutive home games should they advance past the first round.
“The result of winning a region championship is the best,” Rutledge said. “Winning a region championship is big mainly because of the two home games.”
Despite only having one win this season, Cedar wasn’t about to go down without a fight. The Redmen took the opening possession and rattled off an 11-play scoring drive capped by an 18-yard scamper by quarterback Easton Weaver. The Cedar sideline and crowd was pumped, and a little thing called momentum was in its corner.
At least until the ensuing kickoff.
Sophomore running back Bridger Cowdin fielded the kick from Jeff Rogers and never looked back. Cowdin juked defenders and shook off would-be tacklers before bursting through one final hole for 89 yards and a Desert Hills touchdown. The score was tied at 7-7 before the Redmen had even finished celebrating their touchdown.
“That big return settled us down,” coach Carl Franke said. “Bridger had a huge game for us tonight. He’s a fantastic athlete and team player. He’s going to be something special.”
But even after the big special teams breakdown, Cedar still had its chances and will remember this game for the could-haves and should-haves.
The Redmen forced a Rutledge interception early in the second quarter and quickly drove to midfield. However, one play after converting on a third-and-long situation, Cedar gave away the first of four fumbles. The turnovers proved costly as Desert Hills turned each takeaway into a touchdown.
But before putting the visitors away for good, the Thunder gave Cedar one last chance. Trailing 21-7 early in the third quarter, the Redmen managed to force a Desert Hills fumble for their only takeaway of the game.
Working with a short field, the Redmen marched to the Desert Hills 2-yard line before being turned away by the stingy Thunder defense. The turnover on downs deflated completely the proverbial Cedar balloon and the Thunder blew it open en route to the region clinching victory.
With the win, Desert Hills closes out the regular season with a 6-3 overall record and 5-1 in region play. Cedar finishes the season at 1-8 overall and 1-5 in the region. The Thunder will play at home next Friday, but the time and the opponent are still to be determined.
But no matter the opponent, Franke said they will be ready.
“Our first goal was region championship, and our second goal is state championship,” he said. “But the thing we preach all the time is we take one game at time. We’re not going to worry about if we make it to the semifinals. We’ve got to win next week.”
Story by STGnews sports writer Keric Seegmiller
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