After the game, Desert Hills head coach Carl Franke gathered his team together and joyfully yelled, “We’re going to the U!”
The second-seeded Thunder took down the third-seeded Ridgeline RiverHawks, 49-24, on Friday night in the 3AA quarterfinals. Desert Hills (8-2) will now take on No. 1 Stansbury (9-2) in the 3AA semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, players celebrated their most complete game of the season by jumping up and down and high-fiving one another. But down the sideline, senior running back Nephi Sewell could only hug his brother in what’s been a long time coming for the Sewell family.
“After I went down for the season last year, I wasn’t able to be there with Penei and that was really tough,” Nephi said. “I told him (Penei) before the game today how special it is to play with him and that I would have his back and that we weren’t going to lose today. Everyone really came together and we did just that.”
The victory was special for the Thunder after coming up short last year against Snow Canyon. The Warriors scored a touchdown with less than a minute to go to stun Desert Hills and not only moved on to the 3AA semifinals, but picked up their first-ever victory at Thunder Stadium in the process.
“One year ago, we were in this same position and we didn’t get the job done,” Franke told his players after the game. “But tonight, we came together and left everything out there and I couldn’t be prouder of you guys. Let’s enjoy this win tonight but, remember, we’re not done yet.”
Desert Hills led from start to finish as the Thunder jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. Nephi Sewell started it off with a big 34-yard as he ran over several defenders before being dragged down at the 2-yard line. Quarterback Quinn Kiser then took it in on the next play for the Thunder.
Less than a minute later, the Thunder scored again as Kiser found Logan Hokanson on a slant route for a 16-yard touchdown pass. Hokanson caught the ball on the 2-yard line before reaching across the goal line for the score. The touchdown was setup by defensive end Tyler Warner – who looked more like a wide receiver – as he picked off a tipped pass and impressively out jumped a RiverHawks running back.
After dropping what would have been his second touchdown on the day, Hokanson responded just minutes later as he climbed the ladder and hauled in a 20-yard pass from Kiser to give the Thunder a first-and-goal on the 5-yard line. The Thunder only needed one play to score as Nephi Sewell ran untouched up the middle for one of his two touchdowns on the day.
“Whenever I drop a pass it really fires me up,” said Hokanson. “I was just glad I could make up for it on the next catch.”
“It’s amazing to know that our season isn’t over yet,” Nephi Sewell added. “It’s a great accomplishment for our team to keep moving on because it’s not easy to get there.”
Kiser completed five of eight passed for 67 yards and a touchdown, but also rushed for two scores as well. Marco Jordan added a 15-yard run as he powered his way through several defenders and in for the score against one of the best run defenses in all of 3AA coming in.
“A lot of teams seemed to shy away from the run against them because they are so big and physical,” said Franke. “But we are too and I told our guys let’s see what you are made of and they went out and executed in all three phases.”
Nothing could go wrong for the Thunder it seemed. Even when they had a bad snap on a punt, sophomore punter Logan Callister – who rolled his ankle yesterday – still managed to boot a 55-yard punt to pin the RiverHawks on their own 6-yard line. And for the cherry on top, Nephi Sewell – who ran for 160 yards on 14 carries – threw a pass for his first completion of the season.
“That was my first pass of the season and it might have been my last,” he said, smiling. “It didn’t look very nice, but I have a lot of trust in our wide receivers to go up and get it.”