Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — In the first of two 4A semifinals staged at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Friday, the Highland Rams didn't look like a team with four losses. And the Springville Red Devils didn't look like a team that just knocked off Utah's perennial 4A football power a week earlier, either.
From start to finish, the Rams ran roughshod over the same Red Devils team that handcuffed four-time defending state champion Timpview in last week's quarterfinals.
The Rams, who never punted and put 33 points on the board by halftime, racked up more than 400 yards offense in the first two quarters and then coasted into next week's championship game against Mountain Crest with a convincing 46-21 victory.
"They beat Timpview last week and probably thought that was the championship game, but we came out and handled them with something they've probably never seen before," Rams receiver Nate Fakahafua said.
Actually, neither team put on a defensive display worthy of compliment, but in the end, Highland's offensive numbers are not only indicative of the Rams' dominance, but put their performance in the record books as well. Highland's 486 yards rushing is the third most in semifinal history, and its 593 yards total offense is second most in semifinal history.
"We really just stuck with what we've been doing all year and really just took what they gave us," Highland coach Brody Benson said.
In comparison, Springville rushed for only 54 yards. The Red Devils did, however, have 327 passing yards, but three second-half interceptions thrown by junior QB Steve Bate derailed any comeback hope. Springville stayed within striking distance for three quarters, mainly on the strength of 282 kick-return yards.
"I think they had more energy and wanted the game more, and we couldn't stop them on offense," Springville coach Scott Mitchell said. "We just played bad."
From early on, this became a game of big plays. Highland fullback Sione Houma, whose size and speed were too much for Springville's defenders, rushed for 217 yards and three TDs — with two of those scores being longer than 60 yards. Rams' QB Anthony Smithson also had two long rushing TDs, one from 25 yards and one from 72 yards, and added a 77-yard run that set up another score. Highland kicker Hayes Hicken booted field goals of 25 yards and 45 yards.
But it was the Red Devils who took an early 7-3 lead when Bate found receiver Jaylon Miyasaki in a seam down the right side and Miyasaki, after a one-handed catch, raced untouched for a 68-yard score.
The Rams came back quickly, as in very quickly, by scoring two touchdowns in their next five plays to take a 17-7 lead.
After Hicken's second field goal put Highland up 20-7, Springville responded with an 88-yard kickoff return by Zach Gardinier to close back within a touchdown. But touchdown runs by Houma and Smithson had Highland firmly back in control at the break with a 33-14 lead. And Smithson's 72-yard TD run 90 seconds into the second half stretched the lead to 39-14.
The Red Devils made one final push when Miyasaki took a pass over the middle and cut across field for a 33-yard score. But Houma's third TD run, and Colby Earl's second interception midway through the final quarter, sealed it for the Rams.
"I think right now we kind of have everyone set where they should be and this team has just jelled together. We're playing good right now, and we've got one more week and we've got one more Monday, and we're going to battle," Benson said.