SALT LAKE CITY — The young men in gold and black let the tears flow freely at the heartbreaking end of a magnificent season no one thought they'd have.
Picked to finish fourth in its region, the Desert Hills football team exceeded everyone's expectations but its own this fall.
"They had a great season — a better season than what most thought," said first-year had coach Carl Franke after his team lost a 35-28 semifinal game against Spanish Fork on Thursday night. "We fell short of what our goal was, and that was to win the state championship. … But they've done a really great job; they've bought into the system. This won't be the last time we're here."
The team is young except for a few seniors who provided leadership to the talented group. Senior Ty Rutledge moved from two years as a receiver to starting quarterback and proved himself to be a smart, skilled offensive leader.
"Ty is just a natural athlete," said Franke. "I can't say he's a quarterback per se; he's just a competitor and an athlete and that's why we had him on the field."
When asked about Rutledge's role in leading the team to the semifinal game, Franke didn't hesitate.
"He's the guy," he said. "The offensive line did such a great job tonight, but Ty is one of those kids you'll see on Saturday afternoon and Saturday nights playing for somebody. Hopefully somebody up here notices how tough and how good an athlete he is."
Rutledge threw for 127 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
The senior, who is also a star for the baseball and basketball teams, was embracing coaches and teammates after the loss.
"We had a great year," he said, wiping away tears. "It was fun. … Obviously it wasn't enough, but you win some, you lose some and life goes on. We'll wake up tomorrow morning and go through our daily routine. This is going to hurt for a long time."
Rutledge has no doubt that his coach is right about how his teammates will use the loss to come back stronger and more determined next season.
"We'll bounce back," he said. "These are all great young men, and I love every single one of these guys. I want to thank them all so much."
Franke said that while he's as disappointed as his players that they didn't earn that title trophy, he hopes they gained something far more important from their time in his program. His commitment to developing their lives off the field is part of the reason the team had such success this season, he said.
"It starts with belief in family," he said. "You've got to have good foundations. We preach that — we preach family and all the good things that happen. These guys are going to be great young men even after football. So, even though they're great football players, what we hope for is that they're just great young men in their communities afterwards. Got great support from our fans. Great coaching staff, and like I said, this won't be our last time here."
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