ST. GEORGE — There are very few strangers or surprises, it seems, when it comes to the 3AA state football playoffs.
After all, Desert Hills had already faced two of its first three postseason opponents — Stansbury and Dixie — earlier this season. And the Thunder will see some more familiar faces across the line of scrimmage Friday when they take on 3AA South region rival Pine View.
And, just like they were in last week's semifinal duel with Dixie, the Thunder will be hoping to avenge a loss earlier this season. Desert Hills started the season with five straight wins, then dropped a 16-10 decision to Pine View. The Thunder then fell to Dixie 27-7 the following week — and they haven't lost since in their 10-2 season thus far.
"You kind of know what you're up against,” Desert Hills coach Carl Franke said of his team's familiarity with its playoff foes. "It doesn't take a lot of convincing with the kids because they know what that team's capable of.
"The tough thing about it is, each team knows each other really well, and the coaching staffs know each other really well, too, so there will be some cat-and-mouse stuff where you try to throw some wrinkles in at 'em that they haven't seen before.
"In the preseason you have your record, and then in the regular season you have your record, and then you get to the postseason and everybody is back to 0-0,” Franke said. "In the postseason, you're hoping to win four more games, and now we're trying to win one more — the biggest one of the season — on Friday."
Two special teams scores — a 48-yard punt return for a TD by Braden Reber on the final play of the first half, and a game-tying 92-yard kickoff return by Zac Fuchs — were the difference in the Thunder's 21-14 victory over Dixie.
"We've spent a lot of time on special teams this year," Franke said, "and I'm glad it's paying off for us now."
In the Thunder's midseason loss to Pine View, Desert Hills held a 10-3 lead before letting it slip away.
"We threw a late pick-six,” Franke said. "It went off the receiver's hands and fell in the lap of one of their guys; that's how they beat us.
"We were in control of that game the whole time. We just didn't finish it. Don't get me wrong, Pine View is a heck of a football team; we just let that one get away from us."
Franke sized up the two teams that will square off for the 3AA title Friday.
"There's a huge contrast between us and Pine View," the Thunder coach said. "They have a good defense but they lean on their offense. We have a good offense but we lean on our offense.
"But both teams are solid all the way around. Let's face it: You don't get to the state finals unless you have all three phases — offense, defense and special teams."
Franke figures the key matchup will be Pine View's vaunted offense against his team's tenacious defense.
"I don't think you can keep a team down for an entire game,” he said. "The more opportunities you give Pine View to be on the field on offense, the more chances they're going to have to be successful. So we've got to keep them in second-and-long and third-and-long situations and keep them off field as much as possible.
"So we need to keep our offense on the field, too, as much as we can, because when our offense is on the field it means their offense isn't.
"Pine View's a heck of a football team, and that's why they are where they are,” Franke said. "We respect them and their coaching staff. They've got a lot of talent on both sides of the football, and I expect it to be a really good game.”
One that probably won't have too many surprises for either team.
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