SALT LAKE CITY — That football team from Desert Hills deserves some Thunder-ous applause.
Indeed, no Hollywood script writer could've come up with a better ending to this state championship thriller's fantastic finish, which would've brought any football fan to their feet.
Desert Hills running back Landon Broadhead powered his way into the end zone from 2 yards out as time expired to give the Thunder a dramatic 27-21 victory over Pine View for the inaugural 3AA title Friday night at the University of Utah's chilly, wind-swept Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"We believed in ourselves and we believed in what the coaches had taught us all week," said Broadhead, who also scored the Thunder's first touchdown and had one of their four interceptions on the night. "And we just put that to work and it showed off right here.
"You know what, there's no feeling (before the final snap). It's just I knew my assignment and the line blocked great on that play and I just had to get in — that's it, nothing more than that. ... I'm pretty calm, cool and collected. That's just how I am.
"We had faith in our coach. We had faith in the game plan and everything that happened, and we just put in work," Broadhead said after Desert Hills (11-2) took home the first state football championship in the St. George school's short history and avenged a 16-10 regular-season loss to the Panthers. "That's what we say — put in work — and that's what we did tonight."
After Pine View's Pano Tiatia scored his second rushing touchdown of the night to put the Panthers on top 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, Desert Hills sophomore quarterback Nick Warmsley scored the game-tying TD on a 2-yard run with 6:02 remaining.
"We couldn't have done it without him," Desert Hills coach Carl Franke said of Warmsley, who also threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Braden Reber to help the Thunder take a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. "The kids really relied on him. He made some sophomore plays tonight, but at the same time, that's who we went with. Nick was awesome for us today."
With the score deadlocked at 21 and time running down, Jordan Hokanson picked off a Pine View pass to stop the Panthers' final drive and give the Thunder the last possession of the game with a chance at the championship victory.
Given that golden opportunity for glory, they sure didn't waste it.
A pass to Bridger Cowdin vaulted the Thunder to the Pine View 23-yard line. Cowdin then carried the ball on four of the next five plays, pushing Desert Hills all the way to the 2.
Then, with just six seconds left on the clock, Broadhead got the call — instead of Cowdin, who led all rushers with 86 yards — and followed his offensive linemen's surge off the line into the end zone.
"They were keying on him," coach Franke said of Cowdin. "They had a guy coming over the top and really reading him. I hate going away from Bridger, but we picked up some things and made some adjustments on the interior of our offensive line.
"We just made one more play than they did tonight. Our kids just wanted it more and that's what it looked like on the field — Bridger running through arm tackles and getting the job done. Our kids wanted it more in that fourth quarter."
And Cowdin didn't seem to care at all that he didn't get the call on the winning touchdown.
"We feel great," he said with a huge smile across his face. "We had to earn this. ... We're like a really second-half team and we really look forward to the fourth quarter. ... We really got focused and didn't want to get complacent at all; we just wanted to run the ball and win.
"Our defense did it. If we didn't have our defense, we would not have won the ballgame at all. ... This is the best feeling ever. Oh, yeah!"
Desert Hills took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards on 15 plays, eating up 7:14 off the first-quarter block by the time Broadhead broke into the end zone from a yard out to give the Thunder a 7-0 lead.
They extended the margin to 14-0 early in the second period when Reber hauled in a pass from Warmsley, trampled a couple of would-be tacklers and took it 37 yards to the end zone for the touchdown.
"That was it — the start — to get those points early," Franke cited as the key to his team's title-taking victory. "And then just hanging with it and being patient and hanging with it."
After a wild second-quarter exchange of interceptions by both sides, Pine View (9-3) finally got on the scoreboard with 3:31 to go in the first half on Tiatia's 1-yard plunge.
That made it 14-7 at halftime, but the best was yet to come.
Pine View's Bladen Hosner hauled in a 49-yard touchdown pass from Kody Wilstead to tie it up at 14 midway through the third quarter, before Tiatia scored the go-ahead touchdown for the Panthers early in the fourth.
"We expected it," Franke said of Pine View's comeback. "They're a great team; they're not going to be sitting down or anything. They're a great team."
But on this night, that great team got beat by an even greater finish.
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