There was a moment on Thursday night when administrators for Brighton and Desert Hills started seriously talking about possible alternatives to their season-opening football game as the lightning outside flashed regularly all around Cottonwood Heights.
In reality though, Desert Hills didn’t pack for a hotel stay, so unless the 7 p.m. scheduled game kicked off before 9, it was likely going to simply be canceled and Desert Hills would bus back to St. George having never played a snap.
While the administrators worried about logistics, Desert Hills players calmly sat in the halls of Brighton High School waiting for the storm to pass.
It might’ve even been a blessing in disguise, because after the 90-minute weather delay, the Thunder were amped to play.
They scored on four of five possessions to build a three-touchdown lead and then made it hold up with great defensive stops in the second half for the 28-21 season-opening victory.
“I had a good feeling that when we came out they were ready to go. They didn’t want to not get this game in, so they were excited. I really wasn’t too worried about it,” said Desert Hills coach Rick Berry, whose team was pegged as the preseason No. 1 team in 4A this season.
Knowing the expectations for his team, Berry really wanted to schedule a tough preseason, and the group responded very well against a quality Brighton team coming off a co-Region 6 title a year ago.
“It makes us better. It gives us that motivation that we’ve got to get better and improve before we get to region because our region is a dogfight. This is a good opportunity for us to challenge ourselves,” said Berry.
Desert Hills’ offense looked in midseason form in the first half in jumping out to the 28-7 lead, but it didn’t score in the second half, which Berry said gives all the players plenty to stay humbled about and keep working on.
It was the defense that took center stage in the second half for the Thunder.
After Brighton cut Desert Hills’ lead to 28-21 early in the third quarter on a Nash Matheson 1-yard touchdown reception from Jack Johnson, the Thunder defense shut the Bengals down on five straight possessions to preserve the win.
Two of those stops came in the final four minutes. The first came after Brighton moved the ball down to Desert Hills 20-yard line, but the drive stalled there after a big sack and then a 4th and 20 incompletion that was nearly a remarkable catch in the corner of the end zone by Matheson.
The game-clinching fourth down stop came as Desert Hills held Brighton to a 3-yard run on 4th and 4.
Berry said his players did a much better job in the second half of keeping Brighton’s quarterback in the pocket as the Thunder finally starting getting pressure on him with its blitzes.
One thing Berry said he really liked out his team’s performance was the composure it showed in the second half when things were getting tense.
“Every year is a new team, every year there is a different personality. The one thing I liked is I never heard anything on the sideline that they were panicked. They supported each other,” said Berry.
Early on there was nothing to panic about because everything went right.
The Thunder scored first just 90 seconds into the game as quarterback Noah Fuailetolo hit Lincoln Holmes on a 75-yard TD pass up the sideline on 3rd down and long.
Brighton quickly tied it up 7-7 as Matheson hauled in his first of two touchdown passes from Johnson.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, their next three drives all stalled with Desert Hills interceptions.
The Thunder made the most of the turnovers, scoring three straight times and pushing the lead to 28-7 on rushing scores by Fuailetolo and Kona Crowell, and then a Javiyen Cummings 22-yard TD reception.
Despite the three-score deficit, Brighton kept it competitive with an Easton Smith TD reception just before halftime and then another by Matheson at the 9:11 mark of the third quarter.
The Thunder defense responded to the challenge the rest of the way, though, to preserve the season-opening win.