Can the Thunder Ground the Flyers?
By Rustyn Burnside, ESPN 977
September 17th, 2021 at Desert Hills High School was a good day for the home team. After a tight back and forth matchup, the Thunder would outscore Dixie 16-7 in the 4th for a 40-24 Region 10 victory. The Thunder duo of Tyden Morris and Noah Fuailetolo, were responsible for two touchdowns a piece. Desert Hills moved to 5-1 on the season and were now 2-0 in region play.
On the side of defeat, the Flyers fell to 2-3 and were 1-1 in region play. Seth Takau threw two touchdowns that day, but despite his ability to be a do it all player on any given night, it did not change the fact the Flyers were without their Senior superstar starting quarterback, Bronson Barben. Dixie would end up eventually getting Barben back, and behind a whole team effort and multiple contributions throughout the squad they would win the last four games of the regular season. That success would carry into the postseason as Dixie tore through the playoff field to eventually represent Region 10 in the Utah 4A championship game.
Dixie overcame severe adversity last year, and did so as a team. Move forward nearly a year in time, and the Desert Hills Thunder find themselves in a strikingly similar scenario to what the Flyers dealt with. From a Thunder point of view, the opponent this week, Dixie, is 3-1, and one of region 10’s best, just like Desert Hills was a year ago. Like the Thunder of the past, Dixie started region play with a big win. The Thunder are without their superstar senior QB, Noah Fuailetolo, and when he may return is speculation only. Yes, the Thunder currently sit at 3-2, but they dropped their region debut against Crimson Cliffs, and as the preseason darling, most people would tell you the team is not hitting current projections. Like the Dixie team they beat at home a year ago, this team is experiencing adversity and set back, and only time will tell if they, like their opponent can rise from the ashes and finish the second half of the season on a power surge.
The Flyers may not have experienced turbulence quite like last year, but the start of the season was anything but pretty. The flyers took one on the chin against 5A Springville in a 41-14 beat down. Since then, all they have done is win. Literally, three games straight. Matchups against Riverton, Palm Desert California, and Pine View have all finished in the Flyer’s favor. The Dixie defense led by Treven Alldredge and his 57 total tackles (14.3 a game, 2nd in 4A to Cedar’s Bryson Bennett) have yet to allow an opponent Over 15 points in Dixie wins. Alldredge and Brayden Wilson have 4 sacks altogether, and Wilson has poured in 37 tackles of his own with an interception to boot. Jake Dombrowski has also been a major part of stifling opponents with 37 tackles and a sack to his name. Mason Kesterson has two interceptions to pace the squad. There is a lot of optimism behind this Dixie defensive unit and they will look to jump early on the Thunder who average a cool 26 points per game.
Desert Hills just came off the right side of a 44-0 smackdown on Homecoming night against out of region opponent, North Sanpete. The Flyers on the flip side, just posted a season high 51 points in their Region 10 opener, as they pummeled Pine View 51-13. Out of 568 total yards that game, Jalen Schultz threw for 225 of them, a season best. Add Three touchdowns to that stat line and Schultz now has thrown 5 touchdowns and no interceptions the last two games, accounting for his best stretch of the year. Jeffrey Christian has eclipsed the 200 rush yards barrier with 204 and leads the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns with three. Blake Watson leads the team in receiving with 8 grabs. 111 yards and two scores. Jaxon Barben and Seth Takau both average over 100 yards per game between carrying the football and catching it. On the season they have combined for 775 yards total, or a bit over half of the Flyers total offense on the season. The Thunder will need to dial in on these two utility stars.
The Thunder offense is hard to gage because the talent and pieces are undeniable. The QB situation has loomed large over the season. Beau Wall is coming off his best game in the 44-0 win, with a steady stat line of 13/17 for 122 yards and a Touchdown. He no doubt has the talent and will be a name to keep an eye on in years to come, but Wall is just a sophomore and has been thrust into a spot where a lot of young Quarterbacks would struggle. As they try to get him adjusted to life at Varsity speed, they have become a pretty run reliant group with 184 rush attempts compared to 110 pass attempts. If or when Noah Fuailetolo returns, means all the difference in what type of Thunder attack we see on game night. For Desert Hills the 44-point performance snaps a two-game skid of being held under 15 points, and should give the offense some confidence coming into this critical region clash. Tyden Morris is the bell cow of the offense with 73 carries, 539 yards and six scores (both a Utah 4A high). Add a team high 17 receptions and 112 yards for good measure and it doesn’t take an analyst to see that the kid is a star. He will no doubt be priority number one for the boys at DHS. If you can slow him down, you can slow down the Thunder offense as a whole. The receiver corps is headlined by the Cummings boys, Ayzen and Javiyen. Both have 11 receptions, but Javiyen has 152 yards to Ayzen’s 119. Javiyen also has two touchdown grabs. Kona Crowell and Lincoln Holmes are both players when it comes to total yards as well, whether off a sweep, a reception or a power run out of the backfield.
The Thunder defense on average holds teams slightly below 20 a nightly basis. The Dixie offense puts up 26.5 a game from the other perspective. Cyrus Polu creates the most contact with 41 tackles on the season and his running mate Kona Crowell has 33 himself. The secondary is a proud point of emphasis for Desert Hills. The cornerbacks in Ryker Tuckness (19 tackles, sack, INT) and Hunter Clark (29 tackles, 2 interceptions) have had plenty of timely breakups this year. The secondary consisting of Tayven Mortensen (2 Interceptions) and Lincoln Holmes gives the Thunder the possibility of ending a game or turning the tide with a timely pickoff. They will try to end Jalen Schultz’s hot streak of 5 touchdowns and no interceptions in the last two contests.
This is a great matchup between the red-hot Flyers and a Thunder squad looking for consistency. Take away the rivalry aspect and the storylines alone make this must-see football. Add the rivalry into the equation and it is easy to see why it is the ESPN 97.7 game of the week. Kickoff is slated for 7:00 PM Mountain Time, with the game held at Dixie High School. Catch it on ESPN 97.7, listen through our app, or stream all the live action on Sportsradio977.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for all Region 10 updates @ESPN977.