3A high school football: Dixie seniors lead Flyers to a season for the ages
Ben Brewer, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Sometimes a special team doesn't seem special to anyone except the guys in the locker room.
"When you have a group that competes like this, it's hard to describe," said Dixie head coach Blaine Monkres after his Flyers earned the 3A title with a 49-21 win over Spanish Fork Friday at Rice-Eccles. "Some teams have that 'it' and they bond together, sacrifice for each other. I think (the bond) just got better as the year went on. They got closer and closer the more games they won."
The Flyers entered the 3A state tournament as a third seed and had the daunting task of beating three No. 1 seeds — Stansbury, Juan Diego and Spanish Fork. Accordingly, most didn't expect the Flyers to even play in the championship game, let alone win the 3A title.
"No one believed we had the talent," said Taylor Berry, a senior linebacker. "We're a small team, and no one thinks of us as a winning team because we're so small. But we're tenacious; we just get after it and that's what makes us great."
The difference between being just another team hoping for a title and the team cradling the top trophy at the end of the season was chemistry and confidence.
"They just did a great job of staying focused all year and working really hard," said Monkres. "They wanted it really bad. We had a lot of senior leadership, even though we only had nine seniors. But they were all leaders and all wanted it really bad. The juniors contributed their part and we were just fortunate."
The Flyers may have had fewer seniors than most teams, but those seniors took their responsibility to lead very seriously.
"Oh, yeah, there was a lot of pressure," said senior defensive lineman Jesse Lambert. "When we were out there on the field, it could be the last game of our lives. That right there might be the last game of my life. That's the way we've looked at it."
So how did the few seniors rally their teammates when they get to look forward to next season?
"We had to lead by example," said Lambert, who had a critical sack of Spanish Fork quarterback Jason Money for a 10-yard loss near the end of the game. "We had to show our heart so everybody else can come out and give theirs. We showed everyone we're here to play, and hope they'll come with us."
Not only did the younger players "come with" their senior leaders, in many cases they were the critical contributors. Among those was Lukas Hildebrandt, who was quarterback Blake Barney's favorite receiver with 203 yards and a touchdown, as well as the defensive back who turned momentum in the Flyers' favor just before halftime. Hildebrandt intercepted a pass from Money at the 2-yard line and ran it back 63 yards before Money tackled him.
"We got a couple of big breaks there," said Monkres of the tight first half. "When Lukas got that interception before the half, that was a big swing of events right there. When Lukas picked the ball and we go down and score, we go up 21-7 instead of being tied 14-14."
Meanwhile, QB Barney provided inspiration for his teammates not just because he was almost unstoppable (184 yards rushing and 299 yards passing), but because of the way he plays.
"I'm amazed every play by that kid," said Lambert, laughing. "He puts everything out on the field. He knows the game better than anybody. He goes full speed every play, and he's one of those quarterbacks, he's not going to run out of bounds, he's not going to slide. He's going to lay the wood on somebody. He goes full speed whenever he has the ball, no matter what."
The players credit their coach with bringing them together and helping them realize that they can compete with any team, any time.
"He's the greatest coach," said Lambert. "He knows the game front and back. He knows what to do and when to do it, and he cares about every, single kid. He wanted this game, I bet, as much as anybody. He's a very emotional guy; he loves football; he loves Dixie. I'm very glad he moved to St. George."