SALT LAKE CITY — After last week's tough loss to Woods Cross, Highland Rams coach Brody Benson basically suspended his entire team for four days, just to give them an idea of what torture an early departure into the offseason would be if they didn't improve.
Consider the message received. The Rams ripped through the favored East Leopards for 35 consecutive points in a 42-14 rivalry win Thursday night.
Quarterback Anthony Smithson was virtually unstoppable, accounting for four touchdowns and over 300 yards of total offense. Meanwhile the Highland defense held East to just 236 yards and gave the Leopards little room to roam.
"All week we talked about playing for one another, playing for your brother," Benson said after the game, amid a rumbling onslaught of celebrating students. "We weren't looking at the past or the future, we were looking at East for 48 minutes. I'm so proud of what we did today."
The Rams jumped out to an early 7-0 lead on a Smithson toss to Justin Weaver, a drive that started after a blocked East field goal attempt. Things seemed to turn very quickly to the Leopards' favor, however. Liti Molisi returned a kickoff to midfield, and quarterback Tanner Curtis connected with Patrick Waldron to tie the game just a few plays later.
Then the Highland kick returner was unable to get a grip on the ensuing kickoff, losing control of the ball on the eight-yard line. Molisi would then punch the ball in from three yards out, seizing all the momentum and a 14-7 lead.
But what looked to be a major momentum shift instead turned into the end of the line for East, and the Rams would proceed to score the next 35 points in the game. The offense utilized an even mix of run and pass, relying on short bursts by fullback Sione Houma to set up Smithson's bigger runs. Those running plays would allow for more room for the Rams receivers to roam, a point emphasized when Nate Fakahafua caught a 35-yard bomb late in the second quarter to put Highland up 21-14.
Less than a minute later, the Rams would score on just one play: a 53-yard dash through the middle of the field by Houma, and a 28-14 margin. The Rams would even get another touchdown, but Smithson's long toss to Hayes Hicken would be called back on a penalty.
The stunned Leopards never recovered, as Highland would add another score to open the third quarter, then a final exclamation point on a 67-yard rumbling dash by Smithson.
The Rams victory, combined with Bountiful's win over Olympus, pushes all three teams into a tie for second in Region 6, with positions to be settled by coin flips. The second-place unit will get to host a game, while Nos. 3 and 4 will both travel to take on Utah County teams Springville and Westlake.