As Ray Hosner and Andy Stokes spoke to their respective football teams Wednesday, they were both having a good time.
They laughed, smiled, made jokes, yet still found a way to get a serious message across: it’s semifinal time.
Dixie (7-3) and Pine View (9-2) will meet Friday in the 3AA semifinals at Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City at 6 p.m.
The Flyers beat Bear River 26-25 last Friday and won the regular-season meeting with Pine View two months ago 38-7. Friday’s rematch is expected to be different.
“After that, we all learned to bond together because that whole game was just up and down,” PV linebacker Christian Reis said.
Reis said he thought the first time around, the Panthers were a little bit cocky after starting 4-0.
Both he and quarterback Ryan Javines said the game served as a reality check for the Panthers, who held on to beat Tooele last week on the road after smashing Ben Lomond at home the previous week.
For Dixie, part of the preparation involves having fun again. After Flyers’ quarterback Jacob Barben injured his foot, Stokes said morale was down, but that the team is starting to have fun again.
“We’re more loose, we’re trying to have more fun, and that’s probably one of the biggest things that we’re working on, is to try and get this win but still have fun,” Flyers running back Ammon Ah Quin said.
The semifinal will feature Dixie’s stout defense against Pine View’s multi-faceted offense, and both have improved since they last met.
The Flyers’ defensive line, anchored by Tyson Fisher and Kaden Williams, has seen steady improvement every week, Stokes said.
For Pine View, Hosner said the offense’s biggest improvement has been in its blocking, both by the offensive line and the wide receivers.
After it was determined that two Southern Utah teams would be playing in the semifinal, the game was moved from Salt Lake City to Southern Utah University.
On one side, it likely saves the schools money. On the other side, many kids won’t get the opportunity to play at Rice-Eccles Stadium, a dream for many.
The players, though, are just happy to be playing in the state semifinals.
No. 1 Stansbury vs. No. 2 Desert Hills, Thursday, 6:30 p.m. (Rice-Eccles Stadium)
Playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium is nothing new for Desert Hills.
The second-seeded Thunder are in the 3AA semifinals for the fifth time in six years and look like the favorites to win it all after last week’s dominating 49-24 victory over No. 3 Ridgeline.
Desert Hills led from start to finish at home but now must travel up to Salt Lake City to take on the top-seeded Stansbury Stallions at Rice-Eccles Stadium Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
At the start of the year, The Thunder had a number of two-way players on offense and defense. But now that they’ve moved away from that halfway through the season, Desert Hills has looked awfully sharp on both sides of the ball.
Running back Nephi Sewell continues to be unstoppable thanks to a great offensive line. The senior ran for 160 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns last week against what many media pundits called the top rushing defense in all of 3AA.
Speaking of rushing, Desert Hills’ “Dark Side Defense” will need to have another big game as they go up against a Stallions team that loves to run the ball.
Matthew and Mitchell Mcintyre lead the ground attack as they’ve combined for 1,909 yards and 29 touchdowns in a run-first offense for the Stallions.
But if the Thunder can get early stops and force Stansbury into third-and-long passing situations, they should have a good shot at moving on to the championship game next week against the winner of the Pine View or Dixie game.
Both semifinal games will be broadcast live on ESPN 97.7 FM.
Follow Spectrum sports reporters Patrick Carr and Justin Giles on Twitter @PatrickCarr_ and @JustinGiles22.