Ben Brewer, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Little more than five weeks ago, back on Oct. 4, Dixie High's football team handed Desert Hills a decisive 27-7 defeat in their 3AA South league matchup.
Now flash forward five weeks, and the Flyers and Thunder find themselves squaring off again. Only this time, it's in Friday's 3AA semifinal showdown at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, with a berth in next week's state championship game hanging in the balance.
The last time these two teams met, Dixie, last year's 3A champion, turned in a dominant defensive effort that shut down Desert Hills' running attack.
And the Flyers came up with some big plays to light the scoreboard, as Ammon Takau hooked up with Lukas Hildebrandt and Andy Appel on a pair of long touchdown passes each covering more than 50 yards, while Tanner Webster returned an interception for another Dixie score.
Neither coach expects Friday's Rice-Eccles rematch to resemble their first meeting of the season much at all.
"They had just come off a big loss to Pine View and I think they had their dauber down a little bit," Dixie coach Blaine Monkres said of the Thunder. "I'm sure it's gonna be a different game this time.
"Our defense did a good job of stopping them last time and they weren't able to run the ball. ... They're gonna try to run it again, and if we come to play, we can be effective at stopping them. But we've got to do a better job of stopping the run this week than we did last week against Cedar.
"Cedar ran it real well against us in the first half, but we did a better job in the second half. Against Desert Hills, if we only play defense for a half, we're gonna lose," Monkres said.
Desert Hills has reached the state semifinals for a third straight season, but Thunder coach Carl Franke knows that if his team is going to knock off Dixie, it must come up with a much-improved performance this time if it's going to advance to the title game.
"Five weeks ago, we gave up some big plays that shouldn't have been there," he said. "Offensively we just didn't execute. Mentally we were not in the game because of the previous week's loss to Pine View (their first of the season) when we lost on a pick-six that deflated us right there. Against Dixie, we weren't ready to go and probably played our worst game of the year.
"Mentally we've got to be tough. We've got to play one snap at a time and not get ahead of ourselves. When each play is over, we've got to put it behind us and move on to the next play, and don't worry about it if something went wrong on the previous play.
"We've got to be mentally tough because it's gonna be a long game," Franke said. "Our offense has got to be able to run the ball, sustain drives and keep their off offense the field. Defensively, we've got eliminate the big play. And special teams plays are always huge this time of year."
Coach Franke knows that Dixie will be difficult to beat because the Flyers have a lot of the same athletes back from last year's state championship squad.
"They've got athletes everywhere," he said. "Offensively they spread the field and they make plays, and they've got a good group of kids on the defensive side of the ball that give you fits with their athleticism and size. They blitz quite a bit and bring lots of pressure, so we've got to pick up the extra guys and win your one-on-one battles, too.
"Running the football is the biggest thing for us. Five weeks ago, we weren't able to do that, and a little bit of that was them and a lot of that was us. We know what type of team they are — they're very athletic and tough up front and their linebackers are good, and their backend on defense is full of athletes. They're still loaded from last year.
"They have all their athletes back from last year," Franke said, "and they have that experience of being there and winning that state championship. They've been there and done that, and that is so valuable having that type of experience to fall back on at this time of year. They know what it takes to get there. They've got a good group of kids. Their coaches do a great job of keeping them focused. And they've got good leadership, so we know we're going to have a battle on our hands."
Coach Monkres is grateful that he's got so many kids back, including nine key members of his defense who either started last year or played a great deal and got a taste of that glorious state title experience. Now, they're hungry for more.
"We've got a lot of guys back, so they know the routine and know what it takes to get there," the Flyers' coach said. "We're not playing in an unfamiliar stadium because we played there a couple of times last year. All that's a plus, and now you just hope you don't become complacent or get overconfident because of those things."