SALT LAKE CITY
Although Desert Hills didn’t reach its optimum football goal this season, there are plenty of positives to take away from this year’s group and the future of the program.
Clearly expectations were high entering the state tournament as Region 9’s top seed. But unfortunately, Spanish Fork’s 35-28 semifinal win at Rice-Eccles Stadium put a damper on any title aspirations.
The Thunder put on a strong showing, even taking a 21-7 lead in the first half. Yet in a game of inches, a couple of key plays late proved to be the difference in Friday’s outcome.
The Dons totaled 387 yards of offense compared to Desert Hills’ 365. Most notably, Spanish Fork’s Jason Money caught fire with 264 yards on 22 of 29 passing. He led Spanish Fork to two touchdowns during the game’s final 15 1/2 minutes.
Desert Hills head coach Carl Franke said the game would come down to the Thunder’s ability to control the offensive and defensive lines in addition to forcing Money to throw into coverage. Desert Hills was solid in holding Spanish Fork to 123 yards rushing, but there weren’t many answers for Money.
Immediately following the final horn, emotions expectedly ran high on the Thunder sideline. But in retrospect, the season should be classified as successful for many reasons.
First, they built off of last year’s state runner-up finish. Franke did a standout job in his first year at the helm. The biggest highlight for this year’s group was a monumental one, ending region rival Hurricane’s 20-game winning streak last month at Tiger Stadium. The road win not only put Desert Hills on the map in Southern Utah, but statewide as well.
Quarterback Ty Rutledge provided an unsuspecting MVP-like season in his first year as the starting varsity signal caller. He totaled 3,221 yards (2,062 passing, 1,159 rushing) was responsible for 39 touchdowns (23 passing, 16 rushing). Receivers Jordan Hokanson, Brad Wulfenstein and Josh Anderson formed a solid trio on the outside, combining for nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“This season is something I will never forget,” Hokanson said. “I love my Thunder brothers and coaches. I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had this year in starting both ways.”
The defense was solid as a whole, limiting foes to just 18.5 points per game.
For the program as a whole, Desert Hills continues to develop and build a winning tradition. The task of doing so is never easy at a newly formed school, but those in the community believe they have a strong sense of identity, which got stronger this season.
“This season has been a blast, and I’m so grateful to be a part of this Thunder Family Football team,” said linebacker Brock Johnson. “The thing that really stands out to me is how quick and amazing our defense has gotten. At summer camp we had just barely implemented the new defense and kind of struggled a bit.
“But through every day since, we’ve been working hard and learning how the defense is supposed to work. … We take a lot of pride in our defense, especially me, and I make sure I show my brothers that by how hard I play and telling them that we need to get stops.”
Critical number: 10
The number of penalties Juan Diego committed during its 3A semifinal game against Dixie, totaling 107 yards. Many of those infractions extended Flyers drives or increased their field position.
Highlight performance: Dixie Flyers defense
The third seed from Region 9 cooled down one of the state’s most prolific offenses at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Out of the eight Soaring Eagle possessions, Dixie forced two punts, one missed field goal, one fumble, one interception and one turnover on downs.