3A high school football preview: Park City at Desert Hills
Park City (3-7) at Desert Hills (6-3)
3A state tournament first round
Friday, 7 p.m.
Parry's Power Guide: Desert Hills by 10
All-time series: First meeting
Coach vs. coach: First meeting between Park City's Kai Smalley and Desert Hills' Jake Nelson
Desert Hills was a team with a lot of optimism at the start of the year, but injuries to several key starters and back-to-back blowout losses to Hurricane and Cedar have certainly put a damper on things.
"We're banged up a little bit right now and we're not playing our best football," said coach Jake Nelson.
In last week's season-ending 48-20 loss to Cedar, Desert Hills starters Mike Needham, Peter Brown, Ty Shelley and Ty Rutledge all watched the game from the sideline in street clothes. All four will try and give it a go this Friday night against Park City in the opening round of the 3A playoffs, but Nelson isn't sure how effective any of them will be.
"They know this is it, all but (Rutledge) are seniors, and it's their last opportunity," said Nelson. "On the other hand, it's a team game, and we expect other guys to jump in and step up."
For a team that started the year 6-1 but lost back-to-back games to end the season, Desert Hills is fortunate to be hosting a playoff game. The Thunder finished in a three-way tie for second place in Region 9, but won the coin flip to earn the No. 2 seed. Cedar and Dixie finished third and fourth and they open the playoffs at Judge and Juan Diego, respectively.
While its region foes must travel 300 miles north for the first round, Desert Hills gets to host a Park City team that went 3-7 this year. The Miners are no pushovers, though.
After starting the year a surprising 0-5 — with losses to Spanish Fork, Stansbury, Duchesne, Delta and Juab — Park City posted a respectable 3-2 record in Region 10 and had Judge on the ropes two weeks ago before losing 21-20.
That Judge loss gave Park City confidence that it could compete with the better teams in the state, and it followed it up with a season-ending victory over rival Wasatch last week.
"At the beginning of the season, we were probably trying to stretch ourselves a little thin with trying to get more guys on the field instead of getting the ball in the hands of our players," said Park City coach Kai Smalley.
A lot of that has to do with getting the ball to running back Chad Smith. After rushing for 339 yards in the first seven games this year, Smith has gone over 100 yards in each of the past two games for the Miners.
Defensively, regardless of who of is on the field for Desert Hills, Smalley said it's important that his team stops the run first.
"The games they've lost this year, the teams have stopped their run game," said Smalley, who added that despite Desert Hills' injuries, "never underestimate the willpower of teenagers when you get in a playoff situation."
Desert Hills certainly hopes that's the case, particularly with Brown and Needham. Brown leads the team defensively with 84 tackles while Needham has 1,167 yards of total offense and 13 combined touchdowns this year.
"It's been a great season, and they're great kids and that why. We're not down and out yet, we don't focus on the last game of the season, … we just have to move on and get ready for the playoffs," said Nelson, whose team is hoping to advance to the 3A quarterfinals for the second straight year.
Park City statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 25.1 ppg
Scoring defense: 26.9 ppg
Passing leader: Heath Vincent (115-233, 49.4%, 1,882 yards, 16 TDs, 9 INTs)
Rushing leaders: Chad Smith (101 carries, 546 yards, 2 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Jono Schettler (48 receptions, 945 yards, 10 TDs)
Sacks leaders: Paul Flake (3.5 sacks)
Interceptions leader: Heath Vincent, Drue Olsen (2 interceptions)
Desert Hills statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 26.1 ppg
Scoring defense: 20.7 ppg
Passing leader: Porter Harris (78-134, 58.25, 1,045 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs)
Rushing leaders: Porter Harris (112 carries, 546 yards, 7 TDs), Mike Needham (100 carries, 887 yards, 11 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Ty Rutledge (29 receptions, 357 yards, 4 TDs), Mike Needham (18 receptions, 278 yards, 2 TDs)
Tackles leaders: Peter Brown (84 total tackles)
Sacks leaders: Nate Brinker (8.5 sacks)
Interceptions leader: Taryn Lund (3 interceptions)