SPANISH FORK — Missing two of your best players to injury for much of the season is discouraging, but getting them back and healthy in time for the playoffs and a run at repeating last year's state championship is equally as encouraging.
The combination of Anthony Smithson and Sione Houma, who both missed significant time this season for Highland was too much for Maple Mountain Friday night as the Rams pounded the Golden Eagles 42-20 to advance to the second round of the 4A state playoffs next week.
"Obviously having Fish (Smithson) back makes a difference," said Highland coach Brody Benson. "I think his ability to throw the football forces teams to loosen up and put guys in coverage instead of loading the box up on us. Sione had a great game and I thought Justin Weaver blocked very well."
Houma rushed for 205 yards on 13 carries and scored four touchdowns.
"I give my props to the O-line," said Sione Houma. "They made the touchdowns happen. I give all the touchdowns to them."
Houma, a verbal commit to Michigan, got the Rams on the scoreboard with 3:24 remaining in the first quarter when he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and scampered 70 yards for the score and a 7-0 lead.
The Rams jumped out to a 14-0 lead just inside the second quarter when Houma ran it in from the 20. The key play leading up to the touchdown was a 33-yard reception from Smithson to Malcolm Card-Turner.
When it looked like Maple Mountain was in trouble early, the Golden Eagles responded with a three-play scoring drive thanks to an 89-yard catch and run by Justin Slavens from KJ Hall to the Rams' three. Hall hit Braxton Jacobson for the touchdown to pull Maple Mountain within one score at 14-7.
The Golden Eagles' momentum was short lived, though, as Highland responded with a 70-yard drive that took six minutes. Houma ran it in from the two to put the Rams up by two touchdowns.
Before the half, Justin Weaver ran the ball in from the six to put Highland ahead 28-7.4 comments on this story
Highland put the game out of reach midway through the third when Smithson connected with Hayes Hicken on a 29-yard touchdown pass. Hicken's extra point gave the Rams a 35-7 lead.
Houma added one more touchdown to push the lead to 42-7 on a 58-yard run with 37 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Maple Mountain wouldn't give up, however, as it put together scoring drives of 48 and 84 yards. Skyler Porcaro scored from one-yard out on each of the touchdowns. The final score was set up by 46 and 25-yard receptions from Hall to Jace Edmunds, which closed the final gap to 42-20.
Highland improves to 7-3 on the season while Maple Mountain ends its season at 7-4. The Golden Eagles had twice as many wins this season as they've had in their short history.