SALT LAKE CITY — In a moment of unfiltered honesty, powered by a strong wave of emotions that followed Dixie’s 20-0 4A semifinals victory over Park City Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Flyers head coach Blaine Monkres revealed something — simply put, he and his coaching staff did not expect this.

Heading into the season they did not expect that their team would earn a berth in the state championship game.

“I asked the coaches just now, back when we were in camp in June did you ever think we would get to Rice-Eccles? They all said no, we never did,” Monkres said. “There were some rough patches, especially during camp. We had to learn a new offense — Monkres replaced Andy Stokes as head coach after Stokes took the head coaching job at Timpview — and they were struggling.”

Over time, through camp, preseason and region play, the Flyers improved. Whether that be on offense, with quarterback Reggie Graff, or defense, led by linebacker Jake Staheli, Dixie got better.

“We’ve managed to get better every week,” Monkres said. “Somehow we got here.”

Here is the 4A state championship game, a spot earned thanks to Dixie’s win over Park City.

" We’ve managed to get better every week. Somehow we got here. "
Dixie coach Blaine Monkres

It wasn’t an easy victory by any means, despite the nearly three-score margin, which was fitting considering the journey Dixie had been on all season.

Both teams went scoreless through the first quarter, as neither offense managed much of anything.

Early in the second period, the Flyers struck as Graff found wide receiver Nate Mahi for a 20-yard touchdown.

That score was it for the first half, as both defenses proved more than up to the challenge.

“Our defense was tough tonight,” Monkres said. “Our offense, well we couldn’t get the ball in the end zone there early.”

That all changed on the first possession of the second half. Graff led the Flyers on a two play, 70-yard touchdown drive, a drive that ended with him running 49 yards for the score.

“That was huge,” Graff said. “Part of our game plan was to spread them out in the first half and in the second half go up the middle. It worked for us.”

Graff would throw another touchdown, 10 minutes into the fourth quarter when he found Joshua Cazier for a 38-yard strike.

In all, the Flyers quarterback finished with 174 yards through the air, 104 on the ground and three touchdowns.

“Our quarterback has progressed every week,” Monkres said, “and it is his leadership more than anything that has gotten better. The kids believe in him, believe that he can get it done week in and week out. He shows that during the week while we are practicing and during the games. He wasn’t great in the first half tonight, we were struggling, but he got it done in the second half. He was able to score that long touchdown there on the first drive in the second half. That was huge.”

The Dixie defense, meanwhile, carried its stout play into the second half and forced Park City quarterback Jack Skidmore into a miserable outing. In the final tally, Skidmore completed just five of 23 passes and threw three interceptions.

“Our defense played amazing today, not letting up any points, getting the shutout,” Graff said. “It’s awesome to have a defense like that. Everyone on that side of the ball plays really disciplined.”

“They just play together great as a team,” Monkres added. “Everyone does their jobs and no one is selfish. They might not get all the accolades, but they work hard and work together as a unit.”

That combination, a clutch Graff and incredibly stout defense proved more than enough for the Flyers.

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“It’s a huge win,” Monkres said. “My emotions are running really high right now. I am really glad to be back at Dixie. I feel like I am back home. More than that, I am happy for the kids. They have worked hard all year long. There are a lot of kids (around high school football) that work hard, but these kids have really come together as a team.”

That is what makes this Dixie team special.

“We are probably as close as a team can get,” said Graff. “We have worked really hard to get to this point and now we are ready for the state championship.”