ST. GEORGE — It wasn’t quite the fumblerooski, but it turned out to be just as effective for Desert Hills Friday night.
Bridger Cowdin fumbled the ball at the end of a long run, but Thunder offensive guard Jake Wagner recovered the loose ball in the end zone just before halftime. The pivotal play helped DH to a 19-10 lead and eventually a 32-10 victory Friday night, improving the Thunder to 4-2 in region play and clinching third place in the region.
“I think Bridger got tired and they caught him from behind and knocked the ball out,” DH coach Carl Franke said. “There’s our left guard 60-yards downfield recovering a fumble for a touchdown. That’s the effort we’ve been talking about … if you have great attitude and great effort, great things happen.”
Hurricane had just cut the Thunder lead to 13-10 with under a minute to go in the half. Desert Hills looked to be running out the clock with a run play to Cowdin at the DH 34-yard line. But the junior running back took the sweep right and slipped through a couple of arm tackles and broke into the open field. After a couple of cutbacks and a broken tackle or two, Cowdin had nothing but turf and the end zone in front of him. But Tigers defender Adlai Elison caught up with Cowdin at around the 20-yard line and hacked the ball away from behind. The pigskin caromed forward and into the end zone, where Wagner pounced on it with 11 seconds left in the half.
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The score would shift momentum and provide Desert Hills with the cushion it would need to close out the game, especially with the defense playing lights out. Jordan Hokanson caught a pair of TD passes from Nick Warmsley in the second half to clinch the win.
“Hurricane’s a great football team,” DH lineman Brock Doman said. “They’ve been in close games, but just haven’t had it go their way. They’re a very physical team up front and they play hard until the whistle every down.”
Elison, who left the game injured in the third quarter, had Hurricane’s only score late in the first half. His 23-yard quarterback scramble had briefly cut the Desert Hills lead to 13-10 and capped a 9-play, 75-yard drive. DH had two pass interference penalties on the drive. The drive was one of just two sustained drives the Tigers had all game against the Thunder defense, the first of which resulted in Hurricane’s only other score, a 20-yard Ethan Stratton field goal early in the second quarter.
But that Desert Hills defense was amazing, allowing just 135 total yards and nine first downs. Hurricane had no first downs after halftime and the Tigers’ five second half drives ended in three punts and two fumbles.
“Oh yeah, it makes offense a lot easier when you’re getting the ball on the 40-yard line,” Franke said. “We’ve leaned on our defense a lot this year and they’ve always answered the call. And it felt great to score a few points this week as well.”
Desert Hills took advantage of good field position to earn a 10-0 lead early in the game. A 30-yard punt return by Braden Reber set the Thunder up at the Hurricane 25-yard line 90 seconds into the game. A few plays later, Hunter Spray put DH ahead 3-0 with a 24-yard field goal. The Thunder made it 10-0 after starting at the HHS 43-yard line on their next drive. A third down pass from Warmsley to Reber gave Desert Hills a first down at the Hurricane 30. Landen Broadhead took a handoff and rushed right, made one cutback and found himself in open field. He then beat the Hurricane defenders to the goal line with 4:04 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers responded with a 13-play, 72-yard drive to set up Stratton’s field goal with 11:17 left in the half. The drive included a key fourth down conversion on a fake punt run by Tyson Yardley.
Four minutes later, Spray hit his second field goal, this one from 29 yards, to make it 13-3. The two teams traded punts before Elison’s run made it 13-10 with 57 seconds to go until halftime.
DH took over at its own 22 after the kickoff and Cowdin ran the first play for 12 yards to the 34. With the clock running, Cowdin again carried, but busted it big this time. His tank must have hit empty as Elison forced the aforementioned fumble, but Wagner’s had some gas in it as he chased down the play and the loose ball for six points.
With Hurricane’s offense ineffective in the second half, it was just a matter of time before the Thunder put the game away. Hokanson’s first TD catch came on a beautiful over the shoulder grab from 35 yards out with 11:22 left in the game.
“It came right over my head … and I just put my hands down,” Hokanson said. “And right when I looked down, I’m in the end zone. So it was like a perfect throw right there.”
The second came four minutes later on a wide receiver screen in which Hokanson was untouched and waltzed into the end zone, making it 32-10 with 7:02 to play.
The win provides Desert Hills with some much needed momentum going into the first round of the playoffs next week,. The Thunder (7-2) play host to Uintah , the sixth-place team from the 3AA North Region.
“It’s hard to gauge what the other region is like,” Franke said. “But we feel good and are ready to go into the playoffs with a good attitude and a little momentum.”
The game is set for 7 p.m. next Friday night at Thunder Stadium. The Utes are 3-6 and lost Friday night to Bear River, 32-27. Uintah has lost five of its last six games.
Hurricane will also begin the playoffs next week despite finishing 1-9. The sixth-seeded Tigers will go to Bear River (7-3). Game time and day are yet to be determined.
Boxscore (via HSgamecenter) — DH 32, HHS 10
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