Laura Seitz, Deseret News
ST. GEORGE — The opening game of the playoffs can occasionally create more unnerving feelings than the succeeding rounds. In the quarterfinals and beyond, coaches and players are acclimated to the change in atmosphere and are better equipped to scheme against unfamiliar opponents.
Desert Hills (7-2) finds itself in that predicament. The Thunder are heavily favored by 42 points, according to Parry’s Power Guide against Uintah (3-6). Yet, apart from the 12-0 win over Stansbury on Aug. 23, Desert Hills hasn’t experienced competition from the 3AA North region.
“We don’t know how the team is really, except for what we see on film,” Thunder coach Carl Franke said. “You just don’t know if they’re playing against quality of a defense that they’re playing this week.”
Franke said the Thunder are approaching the game, which kicks off at 7 p.m. on Friday in St. George, similar to the Hurricane game.
“Focus is the same as it was last week. We were in that rival game, and our kids didn’t even talk about it or cared less about it,” Franke said. “It was just another game on the schedule. We were trying to get better as a team offensively. We’ve had some struggle, and I think we kind of broke through on some of that stuff.
“We don’t care about the name on the chest or what color the other team is — we treat everybody the same,” Franke continued. “If we win by that margin, then that’d be great, but we’re not worried about that or what people are saying. We know in playoffs anything can happen, and we’ve got to make sure that we execute on both sides of the ball.”
Desert Hills has the No. 1-ranked scoring defense in 3AA (9.7ppg), but in its two losses in consecutive weeks to Dixie and Pine View, the offense struggled to maintain remedy. Including the 7-3 win over Snow Canyon, the Thunder scored 24 points while it averaged 229 yards per game in a three-week time span.
“Defense wins championships, so if we can score some points and not give anything big up we’ll be in pretty good shape. The offense stuttered because you’ve got a sophomore quarterback,” Franke said of Nick Warmsley. “You’re going to have some bumps in the road along the way. With us it’s just being confident. We’ve got to strive to get better as a unit. We have the ability to put up a lot of points; we just need to execute.”
For Warmsley (1,291 yards, 10 touchdowns, 5 interceptions), recognizing ball security and utilizing weapons scattered around him is the key in his first playoff game, Franke said.
“Our first playoff game is at home, so that helps a lot in being comfortable with his surrounding,” Frank said. “He’s got a lot of guys around him with leadership that have been there before. He understands that he needs to protect the football and allow the guys around him to make plays. I think the biggest things with Nick is the confidence level and understanding the team trusts him at that position.”
Uintah statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 23.7 ppg (7th in 3AA)
Scoring defense: 23.1 ppg (8th in 3AA)
Passing leader: Braxton Coonis (148-255, 58.0%, 2,184 yards, 17 TDs)
Rushing leaders: Braxton Coonis (147 carries, 510 yards, 3 TDs), Tyson Colton (91 carries, 453 yards, 5 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Haden Bunderson (32 catches, 655 yards, 7 TDs), Hunter Connelly (32 catches, 457 yards, 4 TDs)
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