In my eight years at Orem, part of which was spent as an assistant, I haven’t seen an offensive line like we have. I haven’t seen an offense like we have. —Orem's coach Jeremy Hill
Desert Hills (6-4) at Orem (9-2)
4A state tournament quarterfinals
Friday, 4 p.m.
Parry’s Power Guide: Orem by 4
All-time series: Desert Hills leads 1-0
Coach vs. coach: First meeting between Desert Hills’ Carl Franke and Orem’s Jeremy Hill
Last meeting: Aug. 22, 2014 – Desert Hills 35-13
Their classification may have changed, from 3AA to 4A, and star players, like running back Nephi Sewell, may have moved on, but the Desert Hills Thunder are back where they seemingly always find themselves, the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
The last time the Thunder didn’t reach the quarterfinals was in 2009, when they fell 25-7 to Wasatch in the 3A first round. Since then, all they have done is claim two state titles (2013 and 2016) and advance past the quarterfinals three additional times (two semifinal berths and another championship game appearance).
It is truly safe to say, a bold statement due to the venomous proclivities of internet commentators, that Desert Hills football is in the midst of the finest 10-year run in school history.
And yet, if the Thunder lose Friday afternoon at Orem High School to the top-seeded Tigers, it’ll come as a shock to no one.
The Tigers enter Friday’s contest boasting a 9-2 (5-0 in Region 10) record, a top-15 ranking courtesy of Deseret News and one of the elite offenses in the state, regardless of classification.
Add in a defense that ranks sixth in 4A, having allowed just 16.3 ppg this season, and you have a true 2017 title contender.
“I feel very good about the way we have played,” said Orem head coach Jeremy Hill. “The boys have played great. We had a very difficult preseason (Orem lost to in-state powerhouses Bingham and Corner Canyon while defeating teams out of Sutter and Bakersfield, California). I just believe we need to challenge the boys each week. (Desert Hills) is the latest challenge, and we’re excited for Friday.”
Nacua, a player whom Hill called “unguardable” before the season, has laid claim to the title of best receiver in the state, and for good reason. His 19 touchdowns, in just nine games, and 143.4 ypg are tops among all pass catchers in Utah.
Legas, meanwhile, has completed 189 of 288 passes for 3,273 yards and 39 touchdowns. The junior quarterback ranks in the top-five in almost every significant quarterbacking statistic, trailing only the likes of Cammon Cooper (Lehi), Bronson Barron (American Fork) and Kael Atkinson (South Summit).
“In my eight years at Orem, part of which was spent as an assistant, I haven’t seen an offensive line like we have. I haven’t seen an offense like we have,” said Hill. “We haven’t had a defense like this since the mid 90’s where we are just shutting teams out. We don’t have to rely on our defense or our offense, we definitely well rounded. Balanced.”
Hill credits the players themselves, noting “they have done everything I have asked them to do. This is a special group because they buy into everything. Everything I say and everything the other assistants say. I think that is why we are having the success we are having.”
Of course, the Thunder present a unique challenge, one that Hill believes his team is ready for.
“They’ve got some players,” said Hill. “They’ve got talent. Some kids with big (college) offers. (Desert Hills) is a good, quality team, but I like how we match up.”
Leading the way for the Thunder is sophomore quarterback Noah Sewell. Standing an imposing 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Sewell is a force. The gunslinger has completed 79 of 161 passes this season, for 1,190 yards and 5 touchdowns, not to mention his more impressive numbers on the ground.
He has carried the ball 146 times, gaining 1,033 yards in the process. His 19 rushing touchdowns are a team-high as well.
“When you have a 6-foot-2 quarterback that runs well, that’ll be a challenge for any defense,” said Hill. “It just comes down to gang tackling. No arm tackling.”
According to Desert Hills head coach Carl Franke, Sewell is an even better linebacker than he is a quarterback, despite the latter being his full-time position.
“Noah has offers from five or six Power-5 schools at middle linebacker, so we’ve actually taken our best middle linebacker and made him play quarterback,” said Franke. “He plays the position physically. He’s got all the tools, he can run, he’s agile and he can throw the ball real well.”
Add in the contributions of running back Brock Parry (150 carries for 1095 yards and 10 touchdowns) and superstar offensive lineman Penei Sewell, and the Thunder have more than a punchers chance to walk away with yet another playoff victory.
“It is definitely going to be a challenge,” said Hill. “We’re excited.”
Desert Hills statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 33.5 ppg (7th in 4A)
Scoring defense: 23.2 ppg (11th in 4A)
Passing leader: Noah Sewell (79-161, 49.1%, 1,190 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs)
Receiving leaders: Brock Parry (16 rec., 302 yards, 3 TDs)
Interception leaders: Dawson Mayfield (2 INTs)
Orem statistical breakdown
Scoring offense: 38.8 ppg (2nd in 4A)
Scoring defense: 16.3 ppg (6th in 4A)
Passing leader: Cooper Legas (189-288, 65.6%, 3,273 yards, 39 TDs, 5 INTs)
Tackles leaders: Ethan Slade (65 tackles), Cayne Sauo-To’a (60 tackles)
Sack leaders: Austin Kirby (14 sacks), Cayne Sauo-To’a (12.5 sacks)
Felts Facts for Desert Hills High School
Head Coach: 2012-current — Carl Franke (50-19)
All-time record: 75-38 (10 years)
Region championships: 3 (2012 co, 2014 co, 2015 co)
Playoff appearances: 10
Current playoff appearance streak: 10 (2008-2017)
All-time playoff record: 15-7
State championships: 2 (2013, 2016)
State championship record: 2-1
Felt’s Facts for Orem High School
Head Coach: 2016-current — Jeremy Hill (14-9)
All-time record: 503-302-21 (89 years)
Region championships: 27 (1935 co, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970 co, 1974, 1985 co, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996 co, 2000 co, 2004-co, 2012, 2013 co, 2017)
Playoff appearances: 53
Current playoff appearance streak: 2 (2016-2017)
All-time playoff record: 49-47
State championships: 5 (1962, 1968, 1994)
State championship record: 5-7