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Desert Hills line paves the way to 3AA championship game

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One of the most important position groups on the football field – the line – often goes unnoticed. The line is the group that starts play, and can mean the difference between winning and losing.

For Desert Hills, the road to the 3AA championship game against Pine View High School at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday has been paved through the play of their offensive and defensive lines.

“Well for anyone, [the line] is the most important thing. It’s where it starts,” Desert Hills coach Carl Franke said. “For any team to get this far, they’ve got to have a good offensive and defensive line.”

After the Thunder lost to Dixie High by a score of 31-22 in week seven, snapping their five game win streak, Franke decided to implement platooning. Instead of his line playing both offense and defense, Franke would have a separate offensive line and a separate defensive line. It was a change that worked out for Franke and Desert Hills.

“Guys are fresher,” Franke said of the decision to go to platooning in the middle of the 2016 season. “When you’re leaning up against a building, and you’re pushing up against a building all day, if you have to do that without any rest, going from one side to the next, it’s going to wear you out.”

When players are fresh, Franke said, they go all out, and play better. Since the shakeup of the team after the loss to Dixie, the Thunder have won four straight games, including a 49-14 thrashing of Stansbury in the 3AA semifinal game at Rice-Eccles.

“For us, it’s mostly just getting guys to be fresh. They get a break in between possessions, so there’s no excuses not to go hard,” Franke said.

The Desert Hills defensive line is led by Tyler Warner, Carter Reynolds, and Bundy Sewell. The trio lead the Thunder in sacks and tackles, combining for 10 sacks and 130 tackles in 2016.

“They [defensive line] bring speed, athleticism, power, and strength,” Franke said. “Our defensive coordinator does a great job with scheme, and preparing those guys to work within the scheme to be successful, and they do their jobs. The biggest thing is being fresh, and being able to use that speed and athleticism. Any time you have speed, athleticism, and size, you’re going to be in good shape.”

The offensive line has been just as important in the quest for a championship. The Desert Hills o-line has been indispensable, opening up holes for star running back Nephi Sewell, who has run for 1,015 yards and 12 touchdowns on 90 carries in 2016. The offensive line has also provided protection for quarterback Quinn Kiser, who has thrown for 1,634 yards and 14 touchdowns so far this year.

“We don’t throw the ball a ton, but when we do, we ask those guys up front to give our quarterback time to throw the ball, and they’ve done a great job all year with pass protection, and understanding what defenses are trying to do to us, with blitzes and stunts. They work really hard at watching film and preparing themselves,” Franke said.

Junior Penei Sewell is the hallmark of the Desert Hills offensive line. The junior offensive tackle is 6’ 5” and weighs 285 pounds. Sewell has been offered by Florida, Michigan, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Utah, and BYU, just to name a few offers.

“We’ve got the No. 1 lineman in the state of Utah, Penei Sewell,” Franke said. “You can look him up on any recruiting deal, and his name will pop up.”

Still, it takes more than one star to make the offensive line work, and Sewell has five other players fighting with him on the offensive line.

“The other guys are with him work just as hard, and they work together well,” Franke said.

The Desert Hills line corps aren’t just brothers on the field, when they line up against the opposing line and prepare to do battle, they are also a tight-knit group off the gridiron.

“They’re real close. Those guys practice together, they watch film together, they lift wrights together,” Franke said. “They spend a ton of time together, on and off the field, and you need that trust and cohesiveness to be successful.”