SALT LAKE CITY – A pair of costly miscues, one at the start of the second half and one in the game’s final moments, put an end to a storybook season for the Desert Hills Thunder.
“We had a couple of mistakes that gave them the momentum,” said Josh Anderson, one of 16 seniors on the Thunder team. “We’ve had a hell of a year. I wouldn’t trade one single moment of it. We just didn’t get the breaks tonight.”
Desert Hills led 21-7 late in the first half before a two-minute drill drive for the Dons resulted in a Logan Jensen run. The score, which came on a draw play from the 16-yard line with 31 seconds left in the half, made it 21-14.
After a 15-minute halftime intermission, Spanish Fork kicked off to start the second half. The high-arching pooch kick landed at the 15-yard line, then bounced backward toward the onrushing Dons defenders, who beat Desert Hills to the loose ball.
Spanish Fork scored on the next play, a 23-yard pass from Jason Money to his cousin Cameron Money, making it a 21-21 tie just six seconds into the second half.
The two teams would trade touchdowns late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
But with five minutes left in the game, Rutledge fired a bullet from his own 23-yard line. Spanish Fork defender Cooper Beck stepped in from of the Thunder receiver and set the Dons up with great field position at the DH 32.
Five plays later, Dons fullback Gunnar Beus dove across the goal line from two yards out to put Spanish Fork ahead 35-28 with 2:47 left in the game.
The Thunder failed to get a first down after that and the Dons ran out the clock for the emotional win.
“We struggled and gave everything we had,” said DH running back Bridger Cowdin, who had 148 rushing yards in the game. “When they got that ball on the kickoff to start the second half, that really seemed to turn momentum their way. But I couldn’t have asked for a better experience my first year of varsity football. I love these guys.”
Rutledge passed for 166 yards and a pair of scores, plus had 37 rushing yards and two TDs on the ground as well. But the Desert Hills defense struggled to contain the Spanish Fork passing game.
Jason Money, just a sophomore, was 22 of 29 for 264 yards and two TDs. Over and over gain he found receiver Colton Olson wide open. The senior wideout caught 12 passes for 108 yards and Cam Money also found space to maeuver, catching seven passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
The Thunder, who finish the year 8-4, got a big first half from Jordan Hokanson, who had four catches for 106 yards before the break and scored twice. But Hokanson was shut out in the second half and Desert Hills was outscored 21-7 in after the break.
“I get emotional when I talk about these guys,” Thunder coach Carl Franke said. “This is just a great group of kids. These seniors have done an incredible job. They have also set the tone for years to come of what we expect here at Desert Hills.”
Both teams averaged more than six yards a play in the game as the defenses struggled to keep up. Spanish Fork had 287 total yards to DH’s 365.
“We didn’t achieve our goal of getting a state championship, but I am so proud to have played with these guys and I love every one of them,” Anderson said. “The young guys on this team really stepped up to help us seniors. It’s been a great year.”
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