CEDAR CITY – Jacob Barben played. Boy did he play.
With Dixie having already clinched the Region 9 championship, many fans speculated that Barben may sit out the season finale against Cedar to avoid injury. But the senior quarterback went 19 for 30 for 350 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone, leading the Dixie Flyers to a 44-26 win over the Redmen Thursday night.
“We’re looking at the stretch. We’ve got a tough schedule ahead,” Flyers coach Andy Stokes said. “We want these guys to be sharp every week. Every one of them. I think they’re getting better every week. I’m proud of our kids for the work they’re putting in and our coaches are doing a phenomenal job as well.”
Barben was a question to start the game. A year ago, he was injured in the final regular season game and was out for the playoffs. Since Dixie had already clinched the Region 9 title with a win last week, no one would have blamed Stokes if he sat his star QB. Stokes, however, decided to play Barben and was adamant it was the right decision.
“We’ve played, what, 10 games so far? Every game we’ve said the same thing, we’re out here to make ourselves better,” he said. “We’re not out here for Cedar. We’re not out here for anybody else. We’re out here to get Dixie better. For Dixie to get better, Jacob Barben needs to play.”
The decision paid off early for the Flyers. After Barben missed receiver Payden Harrah on the first play of the game, the two connected on the next play for an 80-yard touchdown pass. With only 18 seconds off the clock, the Flyers held an early 7-0 lead.
“Payden Harrah’s a special player,” Stokes said. “We said before the season started that he was going to come out and shock the world. He’s done so now and continues to do so each week.”
Barben would find Harrah on the next drive as well for a 20-yard gain, giving Barben 100 passing yards on only two completions. Five plays later, Barben would find Harrah again in the end zone, but a chop-block penalty took away the touchdown. Barben would find Nate Mahi in the end zone two plays later to give the Flyers a 14-0 lead with 7:22 left in the first quarter.
Cedar would answer back on the next Dixie drive as Markus Johnson picked off a Barben pass intended for Flyers star playmaker Hobbs Nyberg. Johnson took the interception 30 yards for the first Redmen score of the game. Dixie led 14-7 with 1:22 left in the first quarter.
Dixie would run their only two official running plays of the first half on the next drive, with Nyberg gaining a total of 10 yards on the runs. Barben and Harrah continued to be in sync, connecting for a 21-yard gain, and later an 8-yard touchdown pass to give the Flyers a 21-7 lead with 11:18 left in the first half.
After the Flyers kicked a 27-yard field goal to extend the lead to 24-7, the Redmen needed to answer. However, Trenton Maurer and Jaxon Garrett were unable to lead the Redmen downfield on the drive, and were forced to give the Flyers the ball back on the 45-yard line with 1:39 left in the half.
Barben was able to march the Flyers downfield, but faced a fourth-and-2 from the Cedar 15-yard line with only seconds to go in the half. Stokes knew right away what he wanted his team to do.
“It’s important for us to go (into halftime) on a roll,” he said. “Just like you want to go into the playoffs on a roll, we wanted to go into halftime and have a head of steam. It was important for us to go down and score.”
Barben dropped back and fired a high-arching pass in the direction of Nyberg. The senior ran a beautiful curl route into the end zone and came down with his first touchdown of the game, giving the Flyers a 30-7 lead going into halftime.
The Flyers filled the stat sheet in the first half. Barben threw for 350 yards, while Harrah finished the first half with seven receptions for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Nyberg had three receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown.
“(The first half) was really fun,” Nyberg said. “All the teams have been changing up their defense so we can’t pass. It was fun to be able to get going on the passing game again this week.”
The Flyers would then sit most of their starters in the second half so they could go into the playoffs healthy. Stokes and Nyberg said they were excited for Barben, who now gets to start a game in the playoffs.
“I’m ecstatic for him. I think he’s ecstatic for himself, too,” Stokes said. “He’s a great kid off the field, and he works his butt off on the field. It’s important to us to make sure he gets that opportunity.”
“We’re all kind of playing for him,” Nyberg said. “It’s going to be really fun having him out there and healthy next week. We all knew we were playing tonight. We were just praying that no one got hurt so we didn’t end up like last year.”
The Redmen made an attempt at a second-half comeback, but it was a tall task to take on.
After forcing the Flyers into their first three-and-out of the game, Garrett led the Redmen on a nine-play drive that ended with him throwing an 8-yard strike to Ezra Lata. The Redmen only trailed by 30-14 with 2:27 left in the third quarter.
The Flyers, however, refused to go quietly. On the next Flyers play, backup quarterback Reggie Graff pitched the ball to Nyberg, who turned on the afterburners for a 65-yard touchdown run, giving the Flyers a 37-14 lead with 2:12 left in the third quarter.
The Redmen would answer on the next drive. Garrett had not had a designed run come his way all night, but took a read-option on his own for a 12-yard, untouched touchdown run. The Redmen would fail on the two-point conversion, and trailed 37-20 with 11:31 left in the game.
Maurer would find the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown run with 5:05 left in the game. The two-point conversion would fail once again, but the Redmen suddenly saw themselves down just 37-26.
“We were on edge, making sure we got stops and making sure we got the clock running,” Stokes said. “It took us a while to get together. But we kept trucking, and they finished it for us.”
“We didn’t want to put our guys in there and somehow get an injury,” Nyberg said. “We just played it smart because of last year with Jacob. We didn’t want to talk about it too much and jinx somebody.”
On the ensuing Flyers possession, Graff would find Mahi for a long gain, sealing the win for the Flyers. Preston Moore iced the game with a 24-yard touchdown run of his own with 2:42 left in the game.
The Flyers were glad to hold on to the victory. Nyberg said the win was nice, but it does not matter anymore.
“It means we’ve been working hard. Now it’s just playoffs and that’s all that matters,” he said. “Every team is going to be tough. We got to get better each week and just get ready for Park City next week.”
With the win, the Flyers have back-to-back seasons undefeated in Region 9 play. They will host Park City, the No. 4 seed from Region 11, for the first round of the playoffs on Friday, Oct. 27, at 4 p.m.
With the loss, the Redmen risked missing out on the playoffs. But with Snow Canyon falling 28-21 to Desert Hills, the Redmen will enter the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from Region 9. They will travel to Region 11’s top team, Stansbury, next Friday at 4 p.m.
Thursday’s Region 9 results
Desert Hills 28, Snow Canyon 21
Dixie 44, Cedar 26
Pine View 45, Canyon View 0
REGION 9 FINAL STANDINGS
1. Dixie 6-0 (9-1)
2t. Pine View 4-2 (7-3)*
2t. Desert Hills 4-2 (5-4)
4t. Cedar 3-3 (4-5)**
4t. Snow Canyon 3-3 (6-3)
6. Hurricane 1-5 (2-7)
7. Canyon View 0-6 (0-9)
* – Pine View wins tiebreak (head-to-head) with Desert Hills and is No. 2 seed
** – Cedar wins tiebreak (head-to-head) with Snow Canyon and is No. 4 seed
Next Week’s 4A first round playoff games
Park City (R11-4) at Dixie (R9-1)
Tooele (R11-3) at Pine View (R9-2)
Desert Hills (R9-3) at Bonneville (R11-2)
Cedar (R9-4) at Stansbury (R11-1)
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