ST. GEORGE — After not playing a game for three weeks, the Desert Hills Thunder and the Snow Canyon Warriors stepped onto the field for the third time this season. The Thunder had a great first half, leading 28-7, but Snow Canyon came to life in the second half, scoring four unanswered touchdowns to secure the win at Desert Hills.
“I think we overcoached a little bit, had too much time, especially defensively. Offensively, I think we could see more real X’s and O’s, but it still was getting back to what got us here. Take what they give us, don’t pre-conceive what your read is, read your keys, slow down a little bit and make the right decision. It’s crazy how fast things can turn,” Snow Canyon head coach Mike Esplin said of the game.
The game started off with a quick Snow Canyon touchdown and it looked as if the game was going to be a shootout. Desert Hills did not respond until the second quarter, but they began to hit their rhythm. The Thunder defense was suffocating, and they shut down the Warriors. Snow Canyon did not score again until the beginning of the first half. In return, the Thunder offense exploded.
Three of the Thunder’s four touchdowns in the second quarter came from Kena Taufa, who had a monster game. He finished with 28 carries, 140 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
Snow Canyon looked stunned at the half.
“I think it was just a mentality,” Warriors quarterback Landon Frei said. “We had a lazy mentality in the first half, knew we had to get a job done in the second half, and it worked.”
That change in mentality showed in the second half, as Snow Canyon came out with some energy of their own. They scored three quick touchdowns, all with Frei’s fingerprints all over them. Two passing and a rushing for the quarterback, and suddenly it was a tie ball game.
“It’s just momentum,” Esplin said. “We’ve been on the other side of a 21 point lead that we almost lost when we played Crimson Cliffs. It’s a reminder on both sides. If you’re up 21, it’s easy for kids heads to say, ‘this thing is over, let’s warm the busses up.’ You’ve got to get them to mentally be in the game every down and in the second half, we did that. I wish we could have responded quicker.”
At about the 4:30 mark in the third quarter, Logan Wilstead went down hard. The quarterback and leader for the Thunder was able to walk off on his own, but sat out the rest of the game.
“It was just kind of an emotional thing,” Desert Hills head coach Mark Murdoch said. “There’s not really a lot of excuse. We were up by three touchdowns and that should be something we should be able to hold on to. On both sides of the ball we struggled in the second half.”
Almost immediately after Wilstead came back to the sidelines, there was this sudden uproar from the Thunder. They wanted to rally around their quarterback.
Going into the fourth quarter, the game was tied. Bretton Stone got to work quick, finishing off a drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. The Thunder got to the Snow Canyon five-yard line on the next drive, but was pushed back after a sack, forcing the Thunder to kick the field goal. The Warriors lead was reduced to four.
Desert Hills got the ball back but was limited to a possible three and out situation. Instead of punting, the Thunder went for the fake and Snow Canyon read it perfectly. The Warriors took over on the Desert Hills 15-yard line and quickly scored a touchdown.
That marked the final score of the game, Snow Canyon 42, Desert Hills 31.
Bretton Stone was a force for Snow canyon throughout the second-half run. Using his physicality to lengthen drives was key to the victory.
“He runs hard,” Esplin said. “We noticed we’d only really carried the ball four times. That was another thing, we’ve got to establish that physicality. Just give him the ball and let’s get some first downs. Then that sets up the rest of the options you have. You get some first downs and get that clock on your side, and that was huge. Our defense was on the field a lot in the first half, and not nearly as much in the second half.”
The one thing that was noticeable for Desert Hills in the second half was how they rallied around their quarterback. Even though Wilstead could not finish the game, he was there every step of the way. He was comforting his teammates, going over film on the sidelines and in some ways coaching his team.
“It’s huge,” Murdoch said of his senior quarterback. “We’ve got some good younger guys coming up but just from a leadership standpoint, people look up to him (Wilstead) and they follow him on the field. That’s hard to replace because you can’t coach that stuff. He’ll definitely be missed for sure just as a person, but also his playmaking abilities and everything else.”
This marked the end of the Thunder’s season, and Murdoch spoke highly of his team and seniors.
“I’m proud,” Murdoch said. “Nothing but proud for our guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish. We’ve been really young and this was a great opportunity to gain experience and really build on what we’re trying to do here. I love coaching these guys and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
As for Snow Canyon, they move on to play the top-seeded Park City Miners in what could prove to be a battle for both teams.
“Their quarterback can run,” Esplin said. “They’re more of a power team, not as much spread and it’s going to be cold. I foresee a tightened up, defense is big, special teams is big, turnovers are huge, you’ll have some play action and some RPO but whoever is strongest and physical the most downs will win that game.”
The temperature difference will also play a big role in the game. Frei mentioned that the Warriors practiced fairly well in cooler temperatures throughout the week, and the team should be ready for it. Esplin emphasized ball control.
“I don’t know how you practice that,” Esplin said. “You get ice and make them dunk their hands, I don’t know, we’ll figure something out.”
The Warriors game against Park City is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.