SALT LAKE CITY — This fall, Desert Hills based its team image on having the No. 1 statistical defense in 3AA. It paid off. The darkside unit powered the Thunder past Pine View, 27-21, in the state championship game Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“Did we win?” Thunder coach Carl Franke joked. “Hats off to both teams; that’s an incredible ballgame. Congratulations to (Pine View coach Ray) Hosner and his team. They’re going to be tough next year.”
The Thunder (11-2) were tasked with defending Pine View quarterback Kody Wilstead, who entered the game 384 yards shy of setting the single-season passing record. Despite allowing 332 yards through the air, Desert Hills made enough plays defensively to prevail.
The Thunder forced Wilstead into four interceptions, including three in the first half, which helped build an early 14-0 lead. The fourth occurred at a critical juncture with two minutes and 58 seconds remaining in regulation. Desert Hills squeezed Wilstead out of the pocket before Jordan Hokanson grabbed his second interception of the evening.
“We actually played (Wilstead) pretty tough the first time,” Franke said of the earlier, 16-10 loss to the Panthers. “We picked it so they were going into the wind in the fourth quarter and it kind of held up a few balls for him. But, that kid is a stud. We’ve got a lot of athletes that stepped up. It happened.”
Two interceptions eventually led to points. Early in the second quarter, Desert Hills captured a 14-0 lead on a 37-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Nick Warmsley to Braden Reber.
“We never gave up and we worked hard,” Warmsley said. “We got the points we needed to, and our defense held them to 21 points, which is amazing. (Pine View) scores so many points ... it’s amazing, man. I wouldn’t pick any other defense — ever.”
After Hokanson’s interception, the Thunder capped a seven-play, 48-yard drive on Landen Broadhead’s decoyed 2-yard plunge.
“We knew we were in a dogfight,” Franke said. “I told these kids at the start of the game, ‘We’ve got 48 minutes.’ We have a great senior group and a group that believes in the team concept and that’s how we played today.”
Statistically the Thunder’s gritty defensive performance is disguised. However, they held the Panthers' quick-strike offense to 3 of 10 on third down and 0 of 2 on fourth down. They also limited eight of Pine View’s 12 drives to six plays or fewer — allowing the offense to focus on ball control.
“Pine View is a great team and I can’t wait to play them next year,” Warmsley said. “We’re going to enjoy this while it lasts.”
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