ST. GEORGE — The Desert Hills Thunder survived its semifinal matchup with Cedar City Friday night by using two quarterbacks — although that was far from the plan.
Porter Harris, who has started every game for the Thunder and has passed for more than 1,300 yards on the season, left the game injured. He was playing spectacularly when he got hurt in the third quarter.
So Desert Hills offensive coordinator Carl Franke was concerned, but not upset, when Harris came off the field after a big hit and told him his throwing hand was numb. Franke had an ace up his sleeve in sturdy backup Nate Brinker.
But when Brinker jogged off the field with his right shoulder sagging, Franke started to worry. No one else had taken a snap all year for the Thunder.
"I saw the medical helicopter fly over the field and I thought maybe they were coming for us. Porter was hurt and couldn't throw, and then Nate came off and his shoulder got dinged pretty bad," Franke said. "I decided to put Porter back in and figured we'd just have to run the ball."
Good plan, as Mike Needham, the Desert Hills running back, took over the game late in the Thunder's 23-21 win against Region 9 rival Cedar in the state semifinals at Dixie State's Hansen Stadium.
Harris had his finger dislocated last week in the Thunder's 26-7 win over Stansbury. Brinker came in and played well, passing for 77 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
"He's just a player," Thunder head coach Jake Nelson said. "He's the one guy I can literally put anywhere on the field and he'll get the job done. I don't know if I've ever had a player like him."
Brinker plays defensive end on the other side of the ball and had four sacks in a game earlier this year. He was tasked with trying to contain elusive Redmen quarterback John Ursua on this night. And as it turns out, Brinker finished the game at QB as well.
"We put Porter in for one series, but he just couldn't hardly grip the ball," Franke said. "So we put Nate back in."
Brinker finished the game with a modest 43 yards passing. But he showed off his arm strength on a cross-field, 33-yard TD pass to Ty Rutledge and he threw a pinpoint scoring pass to Cole Kiser with under five minutes to play that pretty much sealed the win for the Thunder.
"I'd give Nate an 'A' for the way he came in, in a tough situation, and won the game for us," Harris said. "It's always frustrating when you can't do something, but we're so lucky that we have someone that can step in and do what Nate did."
Franke said the relationship the two signal-callers have is the most important factor of all.
"They are friends and there is no animosity there," he said. "Porter's our starter and he was playing really well until he got hurt. Then Nate came in and showed what he can do. We are a family and it was a team win."