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High school football: Desert Hills Thunder 2018 preview

Note: Desert Hills finished with a 6-5 overall record in 2017 and was tied for second in Region 9 with at 4-2 record. It lost to Orem 37-17 in 4A quarterfinals.

Desert Hills 2017 Offensive and Defensive Stats

ST. GEORGE — For six seasons Carl Franke led Desert Hills to incredible success with a 44-15 record and a pair of state titles. To the surprise of many though, the administration elected to go in another direction after last season.

New coach Mark Murdoch hopes to slide right into his new role in 2018 and keep the success rolling along.

“They’ve got a great program here and a winning tradition, and it’s been nice to kind of step into that and continue to build and then take things a different way, but still be successful,” said Murdoch, who was an assistant coach for one season last year at Snow College.

Desert Hills has made the playoffs every year since the school opened in 2008, and the expectations are for that streak to continue despite graduating a ton of starters from last season.

The offensive and defensive schemes that Murdoch will be using are fairly similar to what the team ran last year, with the terminology being the biggest adjustment the players will have to make.

Offensively Murdoch said his spread offense is fairly simple, with reads and keys being the primary learning curve. He’s optimistic that junior Logan Wilstead is the player best suited to take over at quarterback and lead the offense.

Wilstead is the younger brother of former Pine View quarterback Kody Wilstead.

Noah Sewell was a bruising runner who played quarterback last year for Desert Hills, but he transferred to Orem in the offseason. His departure allows the offense to play more balanced and take advantage of more weapons on the field.

Defensively the Thunder were a very ho-hum team last season as it ranked in the middle of the pack in 4A allowing 24.5 ppg.

Both the offense and defense need to be better this season, and Murdoch is confident that the pieces are there to accomplish that — and the belief from the administration.

“There are a lot of people that expect the success, but at the same time I don’t feel like — especially right off the bat — that people have put the pressure on me,” said Murdoch.

Desert Hills Thunder at a glance

Coach: Mark Murdoch is entering his first season as head coach at Desert Hills. He’s a graduate of Payson High School.

Desert Hills Offensive Snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Mark Murdoch

2017 offensive production: 32.0 ppg (6th in 4A)

  • 4 returning starters
  • Spread offense

Key offensive returning starters

  • Ryan Warner (OL): Started at center last year and is the only starter back this year.
  • Gage Baird (WR): Desert Hills didn’t throw much last year, but when it did Gage Baird was one of the top targets as he caught 13 passes for 210 yards.

Returning offensive starters

Offensive newcomers to watch

Coach Murdoch comments on lone O-line returning starter, Ryan Warner:

“He’s been awesome. He’s a leader in the weight room, the kids have voted him captain. Kind of how he goes, goes the way of our offensive line. It’s not a real complicated scheme, but he’s someone who’s physical and feisty and gets after it, and has been super helpful in helping the other guys come along and help them when they ask questions. And he’s not afraid to ask questions, which is good.”

Coach Murdoch comments on new QB Logan Wilstead:

“He’s going to allow us some versatility there, he’s a pretty good runner. He’s smart, he’s already starting to see things and being able to adjust appropriately and what’s going on. He lacks varsity experience, so we’ll have to deal with some growing pains with that, but he’s been really good so far and starting to pick things up and understand kind of the vision we have for the offense.”

Coach Murdoch comments on trying to be more balanced offensively:

“We’ll run an up tempo no huddle, and that should allow us to get a lot more plays in and hopefully get a fair amount of yards. Our goal was to stay balanced. How it’s built in we have a lot of options and different things to allow us to adjust at the line or do things with what we see in the defense. Logan is a skinny guy, so I want him to try and rely on some of those other players so he doesn’t take too many hits.”

Keys for Offensive Success in 2018:

Desert Hills was a strong offensive team last year, but mostly because of the power running of Noah Sewell and Brock Parry, who both graduated. This season the team will play a much more up-tempo version of the spread offseason, which puts added pressure on junior quarterback Logan Wilstead. Murdoch said it’s very easy to get out of a rhythm playing up-tempo, something that the players really need to fine-tune leading up to the season opener at Highland on Aug. 17.

Desert Hills Defensive Snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Wes Nunley

2017 defensive production: 24.5ppg (13th in 4A)

  • 2 returning starters
  • 4-2 defense

Key defensive returning starters

  • Dawson Mayfield (FS): Finished third on the team last season with 49 tackles, and also had two sacks and two interceptions.
  • Jarron Polu (LB/DB): Played multiple positions and finished the season with 26 tackles.

Returning defensive starters

  • Dawson Mayfield (FS)
  • Jarron Polu (LB/DB)

Defensive newcomers to watch

Coach Murdoch comments on getting the defense back to dominance:

“We’ve got a great group of kids that are going to play on the defensive side, and I think once the game starts to slow down and they understand what we’ve got we’ll get to that point.”

Coach Murdoch comments on Mason Creager:

“We’re relying on him to do a lot on both sides of the ball. He’ll be one of the few players that we have that will be playing a lot both ways. For his body type and his skill set he’s got a lot of things that are really beneficial to us. He had a great camp, and with his strength and explosiveness it will really help us out on the line.”

Coach Murdoch comments on the mix of size and athleticism defensively:

“We’re not a real big team and we don’t have a ton of size, but we’ve got kids who are just competitors and they’re not going to let up. We’ve got some decent amount of speed on the back end with some of our corners and even some of our linebackers move pretty well. I feel we’re pretty even. We’re going to play a lot of teams that are bigger than us, but these are a bunch of kids that try and work hard. I think our front seven will be tough against any team we play.”

Keys for Defensive Success in 2018:

Throughout Franke’s tenure as head coach, Desert Hills always hung its hat on being a physically dominating defense. The notion that defense wins championships was an obvious emphasis, but last year didn’t unfold that way against the better teams on the schedule. In fact, during the five losses it allowed 35-plus points every time. Without much varsity experience returning, Desert Hills still must find a way to be difficult to move the ball against otherwise it could be another .500-type season that comes to an end early in the playoffs.

Coaches preseason Region 9 straw poll: Second

Deseret News Region 9 prediction: Second

Key Region Game: vs. Pine View, Oct. 10 (Week 9)

Bottom line: It’s hard to believe that just years removed from winning the state championship, Desert Hills heads into a season with a new coach and a lot of question marks. There’s simply not a lot of proven varsity talent on this squad, and it could easily find itself in a dogfight to simply make the playoffs. Then again, the message from the new coaching staff could sink in very quickly and the newcomers could slide into their roles and be just as dominant as the Desert Hills classes before them.

2018 Schedule

  • Aug. 17 — at Highland, 7 p.m.
  • Aug. 24 — SALEM HILLS, 7 p.m.
  • Aug. 31 — KEALAKEHE, HAWAII, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 7 — SNOW CANYON, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 14 — at Hurricane, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 21 — CEDAR, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 28 — at Canyon View
  • Oct. 10 — PINE VIEW, 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 18 — at Dixie, 7 p.m.

Felt’s Facts

All-time record: 75-39 (10 years)

Region championships: 3 (2012 co, 2014 co, 2015 co)

Playoff appearances: 10

Current playoff appearance streak: 10 (2008-2017)

All-time playoff record: 15-8

State championships: 2 (2013, 2016)

State championship record: 2-1

Most played rivalry: 11 meetings with Hurricane, Desert Hills leads 7-5

Felt's Factoid(s): Desert Hills, 10 years old, is one of just four schools to make the playoffs every year of its history.


Last 5

  • 2017 — 6-5 (4-2 in Region 9 – 4A Quarterfinals)
  • 2016 — 10-2 (4-1 in 3AA South – 3A Champions)
  • 2015 — 5-5 (4-1 in 3AA South – 3A Quarterfinals)
  • 2014 — 10-2 (5-1 in 3AA South – 3AA Semifinals)
  • 2013 — 11-2 (4-2 in 3AA South – 3AA Champions)


Desert Hills coaching history

  • 2018 — Mark Murdoch (0-0)
  • 2012-2017 — Carl Franke (44-15)
  • 2009-2011 — Jake Nelson (22-12)
  • 2008 — Kevin Cuthbertson (3-7)


Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years

  • 2016 — Nephi Sewell, DB

Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years

  • 2017 — Penei Sewell, OL
  • 2016 — Penei Sewell, OT
  • 2016 — Bundy Sewell, DT
  • 2016 — Tyler Warner, LB
  • 2016 — Ryan Hoppie, S
  • 2015 — Justice Alo, OL
  • 2015 — Badge Morris, LB
  • 2015 — Zak Fuchs, DB
  • 2014 — Bridger Cowdin, RB
  • 2014 — Justice Alo, OL
  • 2014 — Lausii Sewell, DL
  • 2014 — Tucker Cowdin, LB
  • 2014 — Gabriel Sewell, DB
  • 2014 — Nephi Sewell, DB
  • 2013 — Bridger Cowdin, RB
  • 2013 — Brock Doman, OL
  • 2013 — Jake Wagner, DL
  • 2013 — Gabe Sewell, LB
  • 2013 — Sil Bundy, LB
  • 2013 — Braden Reber, DB
  • 2012 — Ty Rutledge, QB
  • 2012 — Josh Anderson, TE
  • 2011 — Mike Needham, RB
  • 2011 — Peter Brown, LB
  • 2011 — Bud Pope, DB
  • 2010 — Peter Brown, LB
  • 2010 — Bud Pope, DB

To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.