The scenario to open the second half could not have been set up much better for Desert Vista.
The Thunder scored just before the half against Hamilton and received the opening kickoff. The offense seemed to find something at the end of the first half Friday night at Jerry Loper Stadium and trailed by one score.
Another drive with some rhythm and it would be a completely different game.
Actually, make that, 11.
The Hamilton defense continued its tear and forced three second half turnovers, including the Thunder’s first two drives of the second half, to make sure the No. 3-seeded Huskies advanced to the semifinals with a 28-14 win over the defending state champions.
Hamilton will take on No. 2 Desert Ridge next Friday night at Highland High School in the semifinals.
“The defense played a great third quarter,” Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. “(Desert Vista) had the momentum right there and we had to keep our kids up at halftime because they played a real good half until that point.”
After the fumble on the second play of the second half by Jarek Hilgers, Hamilton scored on a 13-yard double reverse when Elijah Williams scooted around the left end mostly untouched for a 21-7 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Desert Vista’s Matt Young was intercepted by Cole Luke on a pass fluttered and it eventually led the final score for Hamilton when quarterback AJ Thigpen threw a 19-yard fade route to Izzy Simpson for a 28-7 advantage with 5:06 left in the third quarter game.
“You can’t have turnovers like that and expect to win,” Thunder coach Dan Hinds said. “Everyone asked what was the key to game. The key to the game is keeping the ball and we struggled with that tonight.”
The game could have gotten out of hand after that but that’s not the way the Thunder program approaches the game.
Desert Vista (9-3) was able to find the end zone with 6:19 left with in the game on a Zach Gonzalez score and followed it up by securing the onside kick.
The Thunder drove into the red zone and faced and fourth –and-goal from the 2-yard line but Gonzalez was stopped at the half-yard line with 3:16 left.
It was rather fitting because the Hamilton defense stuffed the box all game long and took away the Thunder’s No. 1 objective, which is always to physically manhandle their opponent with the running game.
“We had to stop them from running,” said Luke Parrish, who opened the scoring with a blocked punt for a score and added an interception. “We did everything we wanted to do and kept our season going. There are some great teams left but we showed tonight we are the best team by beating the defending state champions.”
The Thunder advanced to at least the quarterfinals for the third straight season and should feel no shame or place any blame. It can be hard to realize it when walking off the field for the last time.
“It hurts, but never for a minute did we give up or disrespect each other,” senior lineman Cole Preston said. “We didn’t accomplish everything we wanted, but we will always be brothers.”
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