By Kurt Johnson
Photo by Kevin McInnis
The last time 3AA South rivals Pine View (10-2) and Desert Hills (9-2) saw each other, they were tied 19-19 at the end of the third quarter. That was more than a month ago, on Oct. 7. Then, the Thunder took over, owned the final 12 minutes and claimed a 36-19 victory.
The win came one week after a Desert Hills loss to Dixie, the last time the Thunder came up on the short end of a contest. Beginning with that victory, they have run off four straight wins as they head into the state championship game and a rematch with the Panthers.
Pine View also comes to Rice-Eccles Stadium on a four-game winning streak, with wins in each of its contests since that loss to Desert Hills.
So, two teams that know each other extremely well will see each other one extra time this year, and this one is for the title. They’re two teams that match up really well and it appears to be a great way to start championship Friday.
Here are a few things to watch as the 3AA state championship game kicks off at 11 a.m. Friday.
The Ground Game
When Desert Hills won the first battle, Nephi Sewell had a huge game running the football with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. On the other side, Pine View junior Jacob Mpungi did not put up huge numbers, 13 rushes for 64 yards, as the Panthers did a little more of their work throwing the football.
One interesting note about that contest is that it was one of the first in which Desert Hills coach Carl Franke and his staff elected to turn away from two-way players. Sewell, an elite defensive back when he’s not carrying the ball, was focused entirely on offense and it has served the Thunder well.
Sewell got off to a late start this year, after recovering from last year’s career-threatening neck injury, but still finished with more than 1,000 yards rushing. Because of the injury, Desert Hills has really developed its depth with Marco Jordan and Brock Parry as additional options.
Mpungi took over the backfield duties for Pine View after Kawika Santiago went down with an injury and he has become an exceptional weapon. the junior has more than 1,500 rushing yards and 15 TDs so far this season.
Pine View Linebackers
The strength of the Pine View defense is found in a dominating group of linebackers. Christian Reis, Zach Spendlove, Austin Peterson and Brennan Bithell are talented and active against the run and pass. Their ability to fill and keep Sewell from breaking off big runs will be one of the keys to a potential Panther victory.
Behind that foursome, Pine View is blessed with a great deal of talent in the defensive backfield, led by senior D’Angelo Mpungi and Dylan Hendrickson.
Big Up Front
Getting Jacob Mpungi free will require the Pine View offensive line to deal with the stout interior defensive unit of the Thunder. Bundy Sewell leads the big guys inside and Masan Tuileta plays off the line of scrimmage to lead a core group that locked it down for Desert Hills against a heavy dose of the running game in the Thunder’s semifinal win over Stansbury.
Conventional wisdom says that moving the ball on the ground and stopping the run will decide the outcome of the game and the 3AA champion, but each of these teams has a little bit of a sneaky ability to be successful through the air. Both Thunder quarterback Quinn Kiser and Panther signal caller Ryan Javines have the ability to run the ball, and each has made big plays in big moments in the passing game.
If defenses take the run away, it will be interesting to see which of these two can make a game-changing play.