SALT LAKE CITY — Two rival high school football teams from relatively warm and sunny St. George will make the long bus ride north today to tangle for the state's first-ever 3AA championship.
And while the weather at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium promises to be considerably colder and possibly much more wet than what the Pine View and Desert Hills players are accustomed to these days, the two southern Utah schools are both champing at the bit to take home the championship in this evening's 6:30 p.m. showdown.
"It's been a good season," Desert Hills senior offensive and defensive tackle Brock Doman said. "Sure, we've had our ups and downs and we've had to work through some trials, but we're really looking forward to Friday and playing for the state championship."
One of those "downs" came in week six in late September, when Desert Hills squandered a 10-3 lead and dropped a 16-10 duel to Pine View. It was the Thunder's first defeat of the season, snapping a five-game winning streak and, perhaps still suffering from a letdown, they lost the next week as well.
But they haven't lost since.
"We just need to execute better than we did the first time we played them," Doman said of tonight's rematch. "In that first game, we didn't execute very well on the line on offense, and we didn't put enough pressure on their quarterback defensively. So we need to execute better on both sides of the ball, especially offensively."
While Desert Hills is making its second appearance in the state finals — the Thunder lost to Hurricane in the 3A title game two years ago in a snowstorm — Pine View is in the championship game for the fourth time since 2004 under head coach Ray Hosner.
However, these two schools have something in common — neither one has ever won a state title in football. And the Panthers from Pine View, who came up short in the 1994, 2004, ’05 and ’07 title games, are determined not to let it happen again.
“This is a new year and a new bunch of young men, and we truly believe we have an excellent chance to win Friday,” Hosner said. “We had some matchup problems in those other games and, I'll tell you, those were some amazing teams we lost to.”
Bear River and Logan dealt 3A finals losses to Pine View in 2004 and ’05 by respective scores of 47-14 and 56-21, while Timpview took the Panthers to the woodshed, 50-7, in the 4A title game in 2007.
“We feel like we were outmanned in a couple of those games, and that's not the case this year,” Hosner said. “That's no disrespect to Desert Hills. They're a fantastic team. It should be a great game between two pretty evenly matched teams, just like our game earlier this year.”
Desert Hills (10-2) advanced to the championship showdown by defeating Dixie 21-14 last week, a win in which the Thunder avenged one of their two losses this season. Desert Hills has been staging nighttime practices in St. George this week to acclimate its players to this evening's later kickoff time and also to help simulate the cooler northern Utah weather.
"We're preparing for the cool weather and it's been a little chilly (practicing at night)." Thunder senior linebacker Sil Bundy said. "It wasn't too bad, though, not as cold as our game last week against Dixie was.
"I think we're in a really good position. We've played in some bad weather a few times already this season, and we've played well in those games. If we do what we want to do, the weather isn't too big of a deal for us. For Pine View, which likes to throw the ball so much, to them it's probably a huge deal (if the weather turns wintry)."
Pine View (9-2) pulled out a miraculous 48-42 semifinal victory over Juan Diego in overtime last week, when the Panthers scored on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Kody Wilstead to Triston Duran with just one second left to play in regulation and then tied it at 42 with a do-or-die two-point conversion.
“What an incredible game that was,” Hosner said. “Football's a team effort, and they all did a great job. There's no quit in any of them.”
Chances are that when these two rival southern Utah teams tangle tonight for the 3AA title, no matter what the weather has in store for them, with everything that's at stake, there won't be any quit in any of them, either.
Contributing: Andy Griffen
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company