HURRICANE — Last year it was a fizzle. This year it sparkled.
Hurricane defeated Dixie 34-32 Friday night in a matchup of unbeaten teams battling for Region 9 and southern Utah supremacy.
It was the exact same scenario a year ago, with both teams at 4-0 and the early region lead on the line.
But the Tigers owned that game 51-21 en route to a perfect season and the 3A state title.
And while Dixie put up an impressive fight this time around, and even led by 11 in the third quarter, the heart of a champion was beating strongly in the Hurricane Valley.
"We had an emergency plan if we needed it, but down by that much, we were able to stick to our game plan and not panic," Hurricane offensive coordinator Steve Pearson said. "That was a hard-hitting game. Hats off to Dixie. But we preach to the kids to believe in what we do, and we just hung in there until we got some defensive stops."
Team leaders Jared Edwards and Adam Thompson, who accounted for all five touchdowns for the Tigers also reiterated that their team did not panic.
"I saw a few people hang their heads, but I'm a leader and it was my job to make sure that doesn't happen and to pump people up," Thompson said.
"It brought a lot of excitement because we're not in that position very often," Edwards said. "We were tested and we came through. Maybe a little complacency crept in, but we fixed that in the second half."
Up by an 18-14 score at the half, Dixie came out juiced in the third quarter, forcing a Hurricane three-and-out. After the Hurricane punt, Dixie took just eight plays and three minutes to march 69 yards. A Drew Batchelor 2-yard run made it 25-14 with 6:49 left in the third quarter.
Jump-started by a 40-yard Adlai Elison kickoff return, Hurricane matched that drive by going 55 yards in seven plays, making it 25-20 with 4:10 to go in the third. Thompson ran it in from 8-yards out.
The biggest play of the night came a few seconds later. With Dixie quarterback Blake Barney having a stellar night, Dixie had the ball and looked to extend its lead. But Koy Gubler jumped a deep post pass and made a stretching interception just in front of Batchelor.
"Coach had been telling us to put some pressure on and take some chances," Gubler said. "I saw the line put some pressure on Barney and he had to let it go and that's when I made my move."
The pick set Hurricane up at its own 42-yard line and five plays later Edwards burst into the end zone to give the Tigers the lead. A two-point run by Edwards made it 28-25 with 2:18 to go in the third.
After a Dixie punt, Hurricane pushed the lead to 34-25 on a 2-yarder by Edwards a minute into the fourth quarter.
Dixie pulled to within 34-32 on a Mitch Wilkinson score with 6:58 left. The Flyers then held Hurricane, forcing a punt with 5:28 to go.
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The Flyers moved it into Tigers territory, but a series of holding penalties forced a first and 31 at midfield. Barney then tossed a deep ball, but his intended receiver was nowhere to be found leading to an easy game-clinching interception by Thompson.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0) have won 18 games in a row. They got 145 yards rushing from Edwards and 112 from Thompson.
Dixie (4-1 and 1-1) got 284 yards passing from Barney. He also rushed for 64, while Batchelor had seven catches for 65 yards and a score.
Andy Griffin is the sports editor at STGnews.com,