The Region 10 coaches got it right.
Back in the summer when those coaches were asked to project how the Region 10 football season may unfold, collectively they tabbed Desert Hills as the preseason No. 1 and Crimson Cliffs the preseason No. 2.
Desert Hills was a no-brainer with seven returning offensive starters, even though the defense had numerous holes to fill. Crimson Cliffs was the surprise No. 2 with a new head coach and a team with zero returning starters defensively.
Fast forward 14 weeks, and it only seems fitting that the region rivals are the last two 4A teams still playing football.
No. 1 seed Crimson Cliffs and No. 2 seed Desert Hills will square off at 7 p.m. on Friday night in the 4A state championship at Utah Tech University.
For Crimson Cliffs, this is its first title game appearance in the short four-year history of the school, while Desert Hills is making its first championship game appearance since 2016 when it beat Pine View for the title on the last play of the game.
The Thunder also won a state title in 2013.
Both teams won their semifinal games at Southern Utah University last weekend comfortably, with Crimson Cliffs beating Ridgeline 27-13 and Desert Hills beating Mountain Crest 44-14 after trailing at the half.
Desert Hills coach Rick Berry expects a great title game.
“They’re playing great, it should be a great game. They’ve been well coached, they’ve had a great season so we expect a very tough battle,” said Berry.
When these teams met back in the first week of region play on Sept. 2, visiting Crimson Cliffs prevailed 21-7. Mustangs junior QB Steele Barben tossed a pair of touchdowns in the win. His production has exploded since that game as he leads 4A with 37 passing touchdowns.
Desert Hills was led in that game by Tyden Morris who rushed for 133 yards and two scores. He’s gone over 100 yards seven different times this season, including 142 yards and two touchdowns in the semifinals.
“He’s been a workhorse all year. The kid averages over 100 yards every game, he’s our workhorse, he’s our inspiration, he just never quits,” said Berry.
Desert Hills played without starting quarterback Noah Fuailetolo in previous game against Crimson Cliffs as he missed Weeks 2 through 5 with a knee injury picked up in a Week 1 win over Brighton. He’s not back to full strength, but the three-year starter provides a ton of leadership in the huddle for the Thunder.
While Desert Hills always expected to be in the championship — even after a couple of speed bumps in region play when it lost to Crimson Cliffs and Snow Canyon — its opponent on Friday was the bigger question mark.
After jumping out to a great start to the season, including wins over Spanish Fork, Desert Hills and Snow Canyon, the Mustangs were rolling right along as the top seed in 4A until they crashed hard in a stunning 24-19 loss to Dixie. The week prior Dixie had lost to Snow Canyon 56-12.
Crimson Cliffs coach Wayne Alofipo said the loss was a blessing in disguise and he challenged his players afterward to make sure a Week 9 loss didn’t define the season. It certainly hasn’t as Crimson Cliffs beat Cedar in the regular-season finale and then again in the 4A quarterfinals with ease and then pulled away from Ridgeline in the semifinals.
Crimson Cliffs will face a hungry, motivated Desert Hills team out for redemption after the earlier loss, but it’s equally as hungry as trying to make school history with a state title.