By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography) & Shane Marshall
SALT LAKE CITY – When the entire final four come from the same region, you never know what you’re going to get, but even with that understanding, the Class 3AA football semifinals delivered surprising results Thursday and Friday nights at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Whether it was the familiarity of the teams with each other or the weather or something else entirely, defense was the source of most of the top stories from the games that decided Dixie and Hurricane as the last two teams standing in 3AA. The Flyers took care of Pine View 38-28 in the Thursday night contest, while Hurricane survived 3AA South champion Desert Hills 17-14 Friday night.
Here are some of the top stories from the two semifinal contests:
1) Close Games
Usually the fact that there are close games in the semifinal round of the playoffs is not a huge story, but with the large margins of victory in all four 4A and 5A semifinal matchups, the tightness of these games is a big story. Add to that the location of the games, far from Southern Utah from which all four teams hail, and two of the biggest stories relate to the matchups themselves.
All four teams made the trek from the south, and Dixie and Pine View had the privilege of playing a good portion of their game on an extremely cold night with snow falling. Welcome to Salt Lake City.
2) Short Field & Goal-Line Stand
Turnovers were a major story in Thursday night’s Dixie victory over Pine View. The Flyers were the No. 3 seed from the region, while the Panthers entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, so a 4-0 advantage in turnover margin was a clear reason behind the Dixie win. That is especially true because of the situations in which those turnovers came.
The first did not necessarily create a short field for the Flyers, but the length of the field did not really matter as it turned out. Pine View quarterback Kody Wilstead tried to squeeze one in deep down the field, and was picked off at the Dixie 2-yard-line, stopping a Panther drive in its tracks. On the next play, Trenton Miller raced 98 yards for the go-ahead touchdown the put Dixie on top 21-14.
The final three turnovers were even more costly. With 3:25 remaining in the third quarter, the game was tied 28-28 and Pine View forced a Flyer punt. Bladen Hosner muffed the punt return however, and Dixie was there to pounce, recovering the ball at the 8-yard-line. Quarterback Ammon Takau ran it into the end zone on the next play, and Dixie was on top to stay.
The four possessions that followed all ended badly for the Panthers. First came an 11-play, 68-yard march deep into Flyer territory. On fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard-line, Pine View scored an apparent touchdown, but it was wiped out by a penalty. The Panthers tried again, but Pano TiaTia was stopped about 1/2 yard from the goal line and the ball went to Dixie on downs.
Pine View got a quick stop and forced a punt, which gave it the ball at the Flyer 49 to start again. This time, Wilstead was flushed from the pocket and while on the run to his left, he threw an ill-advised pass from his back foot that was intercepted. Another potential scoring chance thwarted.
The next time the Panthers had the ball, Wilstead was picked again, this time deep in his own end and Dixie turned that into the field goal that extended the lead to 10 and essentially put the game out of reach with just 3:22 left.
3) Running Backs Rule
It wasn’t the way Pine View’s record-setting quarterback wanted to end his storied high school career, but Thursday night was a tough one for Kody Wilstead. He’ll have other days.
The night really belonged to the running backs for both teams.
For Dixie’s Trenton Miller, more than half of his yards came on that one 98-yard touchdown scamper, but he made the most of his 18 carries, totaling 179 yards rushing for the game. For Pine View, TiaTia ran it as many times (34) as Wilstead threw it, and while the quarterback passed for 198 yards, the runner carried it for 206.
4) Beaten at Their Own Game
Desert Hills is known for punishing defense and great special teams. In fact, a year ago, the Thunder reached the state title game, which they won, with -7 passing yards in the semifinals. This time around, a critical missed field goal in the first half proved costly in a three-point semifinal loss to Hurricane.
Even more costly was the timely Tiger defense making plays at just the right time to stop Desert Hills from putting enough points on the board on a night when its defense did play extremely well. Hurricane managed just 204 yards of total offense while yielding 343 to the Thunder, but when it needed a play, Hurricane’s defense made one. That was the story of a win by the No. 4 team from 3AA South over that region’s champion and the defending state champion.
When Desert Hills got good field position late in the first period and then completed a pass to move into Tiger territory, an interception stopped the drive. In the second stanza, with Hurricane still leading 7-0, the Thunder drove inside the Tiger 10, but bogged down and then missed a field goal.
On the first second-half opportunity, Desert Hills turned the ball over on downs after moving into Hurricane’s end of the field. The teams traded scores, and with time running down and the Tigers on top 17-14, the biggest defensive play of all decided the outcome.
Desert Hills quarterback Nick Warmsley connected with running back Bridger Cowdin on a fourth-down pass play that moved the Thunder to the Hurricane 7-yard-line with two minutes remaining. Desert Hills was on the verge of taking the lead for the first time all night, but it just wasn’t to be.
With Warmsley on the run, Tiger linebacker Charlie Sefita put a hit on the Thunder quarterback that launched the ball high in the air. Tyson Yardley was in position to recover the fumble and Hurricane was set to run out the clock and move on to the state title game.