STANSBURY PARK — Desert Hills shut out the vaunted Stansbury offense until late in the game and Mike Needham scored three touchdowns as the Thunder advanced to their first-ever semifinal playoff appearance with a 26-7 victory Friday night.
"We take a lot of pride in our defense," Needham said. "They have a great offense over there, but our defense pretty much shut them down."
Desert Hills allowed just 86 yards and four first downs in the game's first 44 minutes. The Thunder led 6-0 at halftime and pushed the lead to 20-0 before allowing Stansbury past midfield late in the game. Some early injuries put the Thunder behind the eight-ball, but Desert Hills saw most of its walking wounded return in the game.
"I just wanted to go out there and have some fun," said Nate Brinker, who came into the game at quarterback early in the third quarter when starter Porter Harris broke a finger on his throwing hand. "Porter is a great quarterback and it's sad what happened to him. But I had a great line and a great defense, so I just went out there and had fun."
Linebacker and leading tackler Peter Brown was injured on the first play of the game and Needham left the game on the Thunder's first offensive play. Both players returned in the second half and had monster games.
Needham's TD catch midway through the third quarter put Desert Hills ahead 12-0. Bud Pope ran in the two-point conversion to make it 14-0 with four minutes to go in the quarter.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, Needham notched his second score when he went airborne over the scrum for a 1-yard TD run. That made it 20-0 and was Needham's 17th score of the year. It capped a 17-play, 74-yard drive for the Thunder.
Stansbury finally put together a drive late in the game. Chase Christiansen dove in from two yards out to cut the DH lead to 20-7 with 3:04 to play.
But an onside kick was unsuccessful by the Stallions, and Needham iced the game with his third score moments later, a 57-yard jaunt right through the heart of the Stansbury defense.
"I got banged up a little early in the game," Needham said. "I just tried to suck it up and get out there and help my team."
The 8-3 Thunder earned a trip to Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time and will play a familiar foe in Cedar City. The Redmen beat Desert Hills in October 48-20 in Cedar City.
Harris hooked up with Ty Rutledge for a 24-yard TD pass for the only score of the first half. The teams combined for 10 punts and only six first downs in the first half. The Rutledge TD capped the only sustained drive in the game's first two quarters. It was a nine-play, 59-yard drive for Desert Hills. Stansbury, which finishes the year 9-2, got 63 rushing yards from Jackson Clausing. But the Stallions managed just 117 yards on the ground after averaging 317 per game this season.