GARLAND — The Desert Hills Thunder didn't travel across the state to go one-and-done in the 3A state playoffs.
"When we got here our coach just said we came for a playoff; refuse to lose," said Desert Hills wide receiver Darian Neilson, who pulled in a pass for a two-point conversion in the second overtime to give his team a 15-14 victory over the Bear River yesterday.
"Just catch the ball. Just catch the ball," Neilson thought during the make-or-break play. "You can't think negative, otherwise it will happen."
The Thunder needed plenty of their refuse-to-lose, play-in-the-moment, positive attitude to overcome turnovers, missed opportunities and struggles inside — and getting inside — the red zone to force the game into overtime.
"Just keep playing. Keep playing hard. Things will go your way," Desert Hills coach Jake Nelson told his players.
In overtime things continued to play to the Bears' favor — they won the overtime coin toss and on Desert Hills' second play of the first extra period, Bear River's Riley Steed intercepted a pass to end the possession.
The Bears missed a field goal on their first overtime attempt, only to follow it up on the first play of the second overtime with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Wade Miller to Drake Walker.
So when Desert Hills put six on the board with a nine-yard pass from Porter Harris to Tanner Atkin, they weren't about to let the opportunity pass them by.
"You play to win a game. It's as simple as that," said Nelson.. "You don't play to tie, you don't play for a second overtime."
Desert Hills proved their resiliency during a rough stretch midway through the first half.
The Thunder had moved the ball from their own 21-yard line to Bear River's 6 — the closest either team had gotten—but fumbled the ball away.
The Bears capitalized on the turnover after a 64-yard catch-and-run by Miller and a pass interference call in the end zone set up the Bears at the eight. Hunter Payne punched it in on the next play to give Bear River a 7–0 lead.
The Thunder fumbled away their next possession, but their defense stiffened to keep the Bears out of the red zone.
The score was evened midway through the fourth quarter with a six-yard pass from Harris to Colton Kenny. The score was set up by a little trickery when a reverse pass went for 31 yards to the Bear River one-yard line.
Desert Hills had a chance to take the lead with about four minutes left in the game but the 27-yard field goal attempt sailed wide.
Bear River outgained the Thunder in the defensive battle, 324-284, but both teams combined for just five trips to the red zone.
Nelson said his team will now prepare for Delta in the next round.
"We're going to take it to them," said Desert Hills' Darian Nielson. "We're going to make a run at this thing."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company