Warriors Looking to Shock Thunder
By Rustyn Burnside, ESPN 977
Things happen fast here in Region 10. The Desert Hills Thunder are proof of that. The Thunder were the preseason favorite. They beat big Brighton 28-21 to start the season and those early expectations seemed reasonable. Then the injury happened. Star QB, Noah Fuailetolo was sidelined for weeks. In that time span the Thunder went 2-2, and dropped the region opener to Crimson Cliffs in a hard-fought battle. The Thunder in this time frame were far from a bad team, but for the squad, the coaches, the fans, they likely all expected more. Region 10 shifted away from the Thunder and onto the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs and the Dixie Flyers as potential favorites. Just as quickly as the Thunder had lost sway in the Region 10 race, they got it right back.
The Thunder got to see their star Quarterback return to the field against the Dixie Flyers last week, and the rest of the Region got to see Desert Hills return towards the top with a statement win. Desert Hills would pull off their best Miami Dolphins impersonation by scoring 28 points in the third quarter to smash the Flyers on Dixie Homecoming night to the tune of 56-21. Fuailetolo tossed 3 touchdowns in his return, falling just shy of 300 yards at 290. He completed 70 percent of his passes on 27 attempts. Noah’s return was great for his personal journey, but it is fair to say that his return lifted everyone around him as well. Take for example Tayven Mortensen and Lincoln Holmes, known as one of the best safety duos in region. They were much more than defensive help in the win. They came into the Flyer’s game with 221 yards combined and one score between the two of them in 5 games. After the dust settled last Friday night, they combined for 260 yards and two touchdowns in one game. Talk about an uptick in production. By the way, Holmes had a 54-yard punt return for a score. Tyden Morris did what he does by rushing for 159 yards and two scores, just barely under 8 yards a carry. His backfield buddy, Kona Crowell, also had two rushing scores himself. Cyrus Polu, played some Tight End and it resulted in a 3-yard Touchdown pass to give D-hills a 14-7 lead early on. Fuailetolo may have been the center of attention, but the entire team played their part in what may be the most well-rounded victory of the year over a high-quality opponent.
Defensively, Dixie barely eclipsed the 300-yard mark on the night with 302. 91 rush yards, 211 pass yards. All Dixie scores were on the ground, a nod to the talent within the Thunder secondary. Polu led the defense with 7 tackles as Hunter Clark and Mortensen chipped in 5. The Thunder defense has yet to give up more than 30 points this season. That defense will be tested against a Snow Canyon team who has been on the right side of 40 points twice this year including last weeks win over Hurricane. With the Dixie victory, the Thunder reclaimed respect in the region race, and reclaimed a top two spot in the RPI.
Speaking of the Warriors, the #5 RPI team, their 3-3 record may be cause for concern on paper, but when you watch this team play, the talent and potential is evident. Snow Canyon is 2-1 since region play began and, in my opinion, they are playing their best ball of the year. A tough grind it out victory in Cedar started things off right. However, their most impressive game of the year came at the hands of a narrow defeat to #1 Crimson Cliffs. This is A game they led by 13 at one point and had an opportunity to send to Overtime in the closing seconds all while rolling with backup Quarterback Tank Kelly. This was a moral victory showing that the Warriors record is not a testament to how good this team can be.
When QB Hunter Johnson returned to the starting lineup last week, he tossed three scores and scrambled for two more in a 47-0 shutout against Hurricane. Johnson has been a part of 13 touchdowns this year through the air or on the ground, so having him back in the fold adds a few more wrinkles to what the Thunder defense has to prep for. Max Reynolds is coming off a game with two touchdown plunges himself and Will Warner is the man responsible for hauling in two of Johnson three touchdown strikes. Semaj Thompson also got in on the scoring action with one 25-yard grab for a score. In reality, 7 different Warriors hauled in a pass in the uneven victory.
Like Desert Hills, Snow Canyon’s defense has yet to give up more than 30 points on the season and in the Hurricane win not only did they hold the Tigers scoreless, but they kept them incredibly limited. 167 passing yards for Tigers QB Gerrit Grondel was well below his average, and you have to add two interceptions. Star Wide Receiver RJ Wright was kept out of the endzone and contained to 51 yard which is no easy task, and on the ground the Tigers could only muster 47 yards. Ryder Holt had 5 tackles, Kolter Stuart, Phoenix Oliver and Rockwell Jones all poured in 4 apiece. Dahrius Romander had an interception alongside Brandon Gough as he snagged his third pick of the season. The Thunder secondary is often discussed, but what the Warriors bring to the table is also incredibly worthy to be among region 10’s best.
In fact, if you were to look on paper this feels like a great matchup. Snow Canyon puts up 24.7 a game while allowing 13 points a game. Desert Hills on average scores 31 points a game, certainly aided by 100 points in the last two games (56,44). The Thunder D gives up 19.5 a game as of the latest data. The Thunder on average score roughly six more points a game, while they also give up about 6-7 more points a game making this seem like an even ball game. But like they say, games are not played on paper, and when these two teams face off Friday night, both will be seeing some new things.
For starters, the Warriors have never faced a Running Back like Tyden Morris this year. The Arbor View back may have been as powerful from what I hear, but in Utah alone the Thunder tailback leads 4A in rushing touchdowns with 8, and in rushing yards at 698. His 7.5 yards a carry is an absurd number. In six games, Morris has rumbled for over 100 yards in 4 of them. The last time the Warriors faced a 100-yard rusher was in a 24-8 defeat to Will Rippstein and Ridgeline in week three.
On the opposite side, Desert Hills has not seen a Quarterback as mobile as Hunter Johnson. The most mobile QB the Thunder have seen was in week one against Brighton’s Jack Johnson who had 49 rush yards. Hunter Johnson has missed one game and has still ran for 477 yards, 5th in 4A. Not 5th amongst quarterbacks, 5th amongst running backs. He also has as many rushing touchdowns as some of Region 10’s premier backs such as Jeffrey Christian and Mason Topalian with 4.
Both teams will present a unique challenge that neither has really came across yet this season. The Thunder will look to hold their spot among the best of region 10, while Snow Canyon will look for a win that will change the expectations and the season. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 MT at Snow Canyon High School. Watch all the action live on sportsradio977.com or listen Live on ESPN 97.7 for your Ideal Home and Paint game of the week!
Stats via Deseret News