In a rematch of last year’s Division I championship game between the No.3 ranked Hamilton and the No.6 ranked Desert Vista, head coach Steve Belles and the Huskies avenged last year’s loss with a 28-14 victory Friday over the Thunder to move on to the semifinals.
The win was extra sweet for Hamilton, after all they had already dealt Desert Vista one of only two losses on the season with a 23-13 victory during the regular season.
The first quarter was a display of defensive might on both sides of the ball. The only score in the first 12 minutes came on a blocked punt by the Huskies’ junior Levi Sterling and returned to the house by Luke Parrish.
The Huskies started off the second quarter with the first trip to the red zone by either team. After making it down to the Thunder three-yard line, the Huskies had a 4th down decision to make.
Belles sent out his offense, and the gamble paid off; two plays later Kevin Walters pushed his line forward to eke out a rushing score from the one-yard line to make it 14-0 with 9:15 to go in the half.
Despite an aggressive blitz by Hamilton, senior quarterback Matt Young got the Thunder on the board before halftime with a very impressive deep pass to cut the lead to 14-7.
The third quarter, however, was an offensive nightmare for Desert Vista, as three out of four drives ended in turnovers. The Huskies capitalized on the first two, pushing the lead up to 28-7 before the closing seconds of the third quarter.
There was a bit of controversy on the third turnover, when an inadvertent whistle cost the Huskies seven as the refs called Thigpen out of bounds by mistake while he tossed a touchdown pass. The down was replayed, but the Huskies would fail to score on the drive.
The Thunder took advantage of the opportunity and drove down the field for a score to make it 28-14 on a three-yard run by Zach Gonzalez.
With about six minutes to go in the game, Desert Vista attempted an onside kick. It failed, but was brought back because the whistle hadn’t blown to put the ball in play yet. The second attempt was recovered by the Thunder, and Desert Vista looked as if they had a comeback brewing.
Matt Young was clutch late in the game, as he orchestrated an efficient drive up the field with some impressive scrambles and phenomenal decision-making in the pocket.
Young got the Thunder down within the Hamilton 10-yard line without letting more than two minutes tick off the clock, but the Huskies held the line, stopping Zach Gonzalez on the half-yard line on 4th down with 2:55 to go.
A 77-yard run from Frankie Felix out of his own end zone sealed it for the Huskies, who will go on to play Desert Ridge next week.
Both coaches were proud of their teams, but Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds was understandably disappointed. He was emphatic in the enjoyment he had coaching this team — calling it one of the best he’d ever coached — but expressed some frustration in those third quarter turnovers.
Coach Belles was enthused about his team’s performance, accurately characterizing it as a “great team win.” He knows that Desert Ridge will be a challenge, but also believes his team holds the key to beating them.
“Got to stop the run,” he said with a smile.
Both he and the Huskies know that that will be easier said than done.