Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Friday's 3A high school football championship turned out to be a battle of the elements for the two warmer-climate southern Utah teams involved.
Unfortunately for Desert Hills, a snowstorm and Hurricane proved to be more than the Thunder could handle on this fluffy, white night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Playing on a slick surface and against a championship-caliber defense, Desert Hills' offense struggled while gaining just 117 yards and making six first downs in a 21-0 loss to Hurricane.
"We came out tough," said Desert Hills quarterback Porter Harris, who completed 7 of 20 passes for 66 yards with three interceptions. "Things just didn't go our way. We just couldn't make big plays."
Desert Hills had excellent field position in the first half, but its offense sputtered twice after reaching Hurricane's 21 and 28. The Thunder, who only trailed 6-0 at halftime, then couldn't get the ball across midfield until their final possession.
Running back Mike Needham, who'd rushed for 1,257 yards coming in, admitted the hype and the game's location got to Thunder players' nerves.
"We just kind of struggled from the very first. We just didn't get things going on offense," said Needham, who had 37 yards rushing on 18 carries. "Our defense played great the whole game."
Despite the rough loss, Desert Hills football players and coaches held their heads high. They played Hurricane tougher this time around — after losing 35-8 a month ago — and made it to the football finals for the first time in the school's four-year history.
"It was a great season," Desert Hills coach Jake Nelson said of his 9-4 squad, which surprised many by making it this far.
"We had our ups and we had a little low there (back-to-back losses to Hurricane and Cedar City), and we battled back," he added. "I tell you, my team's got a lot of heart, a lot of desire to get back to this point right here, and we're proud of them."
The Thunder, who've progressively gotten better since the school opened in 2008, will take pride in knowing they were in this championship until the second half. They also made a nice run to make it to the turf, handily beating Park City and Stansbury before nipping Cedar City in the semifinals, 23-21 at Dixie State last week.
"It was great. I have a whole bunch of cousins and my brother, they all made it up to this point," Harris said. "I'm excited to be here and to make it here. To play in a state championship, it was a great opportunity."
The Thunder also seemed genuinely proud that a fellow southern Utah team won the title — Nelson said Washington County was "happy" for the 13-0 Tigers — after Juan Diego had claimed the crown for three consecutive years over Hurricane.
"It's kind of weird to have two Region 9 teams here. It's definitely an honor to be one of the two," Needham said. "It's not a bad memory for me. It's just an honor to come play up here at Rice-Eccles in the snow. I'm going to remember it forever. I'm not too depressed."