High school football: Strong defense has paved the way for Thunder's march to 3AA finals
ST. GEORGE — If defense does indeed win championships, as we've been told a gazillion times over the years, then you have to like Desert Hills' chances of taking home the 3AA state football title this year.
After all, the Thunder (10-2) boast one of the stingiest defensive squads in the entire state. They've only given up a total of 123 points all season long — an average of 10.25 points per game — and only one team, reigning 2A state champion South Summit, has given up fewer points to its opponents this year.
"Our defense has been pretty sound this season through each position on our team,” Desert Hills senior defensive tackle Brock Doman said. "Our secondary has made a big difference in some of our games. We've got some great teams in our region who like to throw the ball, and we've got some great athletes back there in the secondary who have helped us win.
"Our defensive line and linebackers have been pretty sound as well. Teams haven't been able to run the ball on us for the most part. Stansbury got something like 2 yards rushing against us. We've worked really hard to remain tough and be sound throughout.
"Now each individual has his own matchup that needs to be won in order for our team to win this game," Doman said. "Pine View does both (run and throw) very well, but they throw the ball around the yard extremely well. They're an excellent team and they have great athletes. We'll be working hard to get some pressure on their quarterback and win our individual battles up front."
A glance at Desert Hills' scores this season certainly shows why the Thunder have a chance at the first 3AA championship in state history when they square off with Pine View on Friday evening at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
They've only given up more than 16 points once — in a 27-7 loss to Dixie in week seven of the regular season. The Thunder atoned for that loss with a 21-14 victory over the Flyers in last week's semifinals.
In their only other loss — to Friday's finals opponent, Pine View — the Thunder gave up just 16 points in a 16-10 defeat, with the Panthers' winning touchdown coming on a pass interception, which was returned for a touchdown.
Included in Desert Hills' impressive list of defensive accomplishments this season were a couple of shutouts and two other games where the Thunder allowed just three points each time. What's more, they gave up just seven points in a playoff victory over Uintah and 10 points in an easy win over Hurricane.
In their last five games, since that midseason loss to Dixie, the Thunder have allowed a total of just 48 points combined.
"We've had a lot of success this year,” senior linebacker Sil Bundy said. "And a lot of it has to do with the fact that we have a whole bunch of guys on any given play who can make plays for us, and we have a coach that puts us in position to make plays, and it's been the mixture of the two that has made us successful.
"I think the majority of the season, we've been stronger against the run. But last week (vs. Dixie) against the pass, our secondary really stepped up and got some pressure on their quarterback. I feel like we're peaking at the right time right now, and hopefully we'll be able to handle (Pine View's) passing game."
Bundy has certainly been a big-time playmaker for the Thunder's defense this season, as he has piled up a team-leading 105 total tackles with five sacks. Tucker Cowdin has contributed 101 tackles, 6.5 sacks and an interception; Landen Broadhead has 73 tackles, two sacks and a pair of interceptions, and Gabriel Sewell, Jacob Gabriel, Hunter Staley, Jake Wagner, Braden Reber, Zac Fuchs, Lausii Sewell, Ammon Finau and Doman each have two dozen or more tackles apiece.
Wagner has a whopping 13.5 sacks this season, while Doman, Quentin Hatch, James Migo, Staley and Gabriel Sewell each have three or more sacks for the Thunder, and Reber has picked off six enemy passes to lead the way in that category.
But as good as that Desert Hills "D" has been all year long, and as good as it hopes to be in Friday night's title game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Thunder head coach Carl Franke says his team's offense will play a very vital role in its quest for victory as well.
"I also believe that offensively we need to put some points on the board and move the ball in order to have a chance to win this game," said Franke, the Thunder's offensive coordinator. "We know our defense will do the job, but we need to do it on the offensive end of the field, too.
"We played really good defense last week, but on offense, there were a lot of downs and distances that we could've executed a lot better. Of course, Dixie does a great job of doing things that make it difficult to move the ball against them.
"We just have to adjust, execute and make plays," he said. "It's a matter of winning those one-on-one battles — everybody's just got to win their own battles. At this point of the season, we know who we are and who we are not."
And who they are is a strong defensive squad with its sights set squarely on taking home the school's first state championship in football.
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