ST. GEORGE – Fans expecting a shootout in the Dixie-Snow Canyon game were sorely disappointed Friday night. But how can anyone not love a grind-it-out defensive battle between cross-town rivals?
Hobbs Nyberg scored two touchdowns and Josh Pulsipher intercepted a Snow Canyon pass with just seconds remaining as the Flyers barely saved Homecoming with a 13-10 Region 9 victory at Walt Brooks Stadium.
“Football’s a game of ebb and flow and I kept telling my defensive guys that the offense was going to have a bad game one of these times,” Dixie coach Andy Stokes said. “They stepped up in a big way tonight. Our defense played one hell of a game.”
The Flyers came in averaging nearly 50 points a game and looked like they were on their way with an opening drive that took just two minutes and resulted in Nyberg’s first TD, an 11-yard run. But hidden in that first drive was some difficulty for Dixie. A penalty set the Flyers back and it took a 33-yard run by punter Tyson Fisher (on fourth-and-3) to keep the drive alive.
Plus, Snow Canyon matched that opening drive with one of its own. After a good kick return by Tae Washington, the Warriors tied the game at 7-7 with a 53-yard march for a TD. Andy Day made a leaping grab in the back of the end zone on a pass from Austin Staheli for the six, then Day kicked the extra point for the tie with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
And then something really strange happened – the two defenses took over the game.
Dixie’s next five possessions of the first half went like this: seven plays and a fumble; six plays and a turnover on downs; three plays and an interception; three plays and a punt, and three plays and an interception.
A big part of the problem was penalties. The Flyers had nine for 86 yards in the first half, plus three turnovers and no pass game.
As good as the Snow Canyon defense played, though, the Dixie defense was just as sharp.
SC’s next five possessions of the first half went like this: one play and fumble; six plays and fumble; three plays and punt; four plays and a field goal, and six plays and punt.
But that field goal, well, it was huge.
Day, touted by SC coach Mike Esplin as a “D-1 kicker,” proved it midway through the second quarter. Day had caught a 19-yard pass to get his team in field goal range, then converted a 52-yard boot that had everyone on both sides oohing and aahhing.
It ended up being the only points of the second quarter and staked Snow Canyon with the lead for the middle portion of the game.
“Snow Canyon always plays us tough and we expected a very close game,” Nyberg said. “Our defense stepped up and saved the day. We probably should have run the ball a little more, but their defense was good. Both defenses were really good.”
Leading 10-7 to start the second half, Snow Canyon had two different chances to increase the lead. But both of the Warriors drives in the third quarter ended in punts after the Dixie defense recorded crucial sacks on third-down plays.
Dixie then took over on the most important drive of the game late in the third quarter. Ammon Ah Quin started the drive with a 15-yard run, then rammed forward for four yards on a third-and-4 play moments later.
But the most crucial play of the drive came on third-and-19 from the SC 40-yard line. Dixie QB Jacob Barben, who had been harassed in the pocket all night, scrambled to his right to avoid a sack. Finally, with the defense closing in, Barben heaved a prayer downfield to receiver Josh Cazier. The 5-foot-11 junior, with a defender right there, ripped down the pass for a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. Nyberg scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play.
Though the extra point was blocked, Dixie had the lead at 13-10 with 8:26 left to play.
“I think we were a little jittery tonight,” Nyberg said. “Not sure why our offense had troubles, but we made just enough plays.”
After an exchange of punts, Snow Canyon had its last chance to tie or take the lead. Staheli led the Warriors from their own 10-yard line out to the Dixie side of the 50-yard line. But with just under a minute left, Staheli tried a deep ball for Makai Lee. Dixie cornerback Josh Pulsipher read the play perfectly and intercepted the pass along the sideline, effectively clinching the game for the Flyers.
“I was just trying to do my best, do my job on that play,” Pulsipher said. “I saw their receiver look at the quarterback and give him a little sign and I figured it was coming my way. I kind of pre-read it and knew it was coming and got deep.”
Stokes said he was not surprised with the tight game.
“That’s the best Snow Canyon team I’ve seen in awhile,” he said. “They’re disciplined and they showed that on the field tonight. The thing I’ll say about our kids is that we stuck together and we finished, amidst adversity of all kinds. The kids kept their heads up and kept calm.”
The Flyers dominated many of the statistics, outgaining the Warriors 294-144, with Ah Quin finishing with a game-best 101 rushing yards. But Dixie had 100 penalty yards and star Nyberg was held to 31 receiving yards and 20 rushing yards. Barben, who had been averaging more than 400 passing yards a game, was 14 for 22 for 155 yards and two interceptions.
“The big thing is we got the win,” Stokes said. “That’s what I’m happy about.”
Dixie improves to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in region with the victory. The Flyers have a region bye next week, and will travel to San Diego to take on Madison High (Calif.) in a non-league battle near the Pacific Ocean.
For Snow Canyon, which got a huge defensive game from Miles Reynolds (6.5 tackles, two interceptions), the region gauntlet continues next week. The Warriors, 3-1 and 0-1, play host to the Pine View Panthers next Friday at Warriors Stadium. PV comes in with an identical 3-1 record after beating Cyprus 42-31 Friday night.
Box score: Box Scores for Snow Canyon @ Dixie
Desert Hills 28, Hurricane 3
Dixie 13, Snow Canyon 10
Cedar 19, Canyon View 10
Pine View 42, Cyprus 31
Next week’s games
Hurricane at Canyon View
Desert Hills at Cedar
Pine View at Snow Canyon
Dixie at Madison (Calif.)
Region 9 Standings (Region, overall)
Dixie 1-0, 4-0
Desert Hills 1-0, 2-2
Cedar 1-0, 2-2
Pine View 0-0, 3-1
Snow Canyon 0-1, 3-1
Hurricane 0-1, 1-3
Canyon View 0-1, 0-4
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.