Thursday night's season opener between a pair of 4A semifinalists from a year ago revealed a lot — an experienced Highland team is ready to contend again in 2013, while a very young Mountain Crest team discovered it has a steep learning curve ahead.
Led by a dominant front seven anchored by big-time recruits Bryan Mone and Pita Tonga, Highland steamrolled visiting Mountain Crest on its way to an impressive 37-7 victory.
“It was a good one for us, the kids played hard, I’m proud of our kids, they battled,” said Highland coach Brody Benson. “Our guys up front I thought we dominated.”
The front seven may have dominated, but Highland's oft overshadowed secondary set the tone with three interceptions in the first quarter against the Mustangs' sophomore quarterback and four in the first half.
With Highland leading 7-0 after opening the game with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive, its defense quickly went to work.
Over a four-minute span late in the first quarter, Ben Bergeson, Andrew Parkin and then Calvin Keyes intercepted passes on consecutive Mountain Crest possessions, with Bergeson and Parkin returning theirs for touchdowns and a quick 21-0 lead.
“Going into camp and going into two-a-days we kind of said we might have a little bit of a learning curve with those guys, but by the end of camp we were hitting all cylinders with those guys,” said Benson.
Bergeson added another pick in the second quarter as the Rams opened up a 30-0 halftime lead. The Mustangs tallied just 20 yards of total offense in the first half.
Offensively, Highland senior Jamahl Greer had an impressive debut at quarterback, scoring on a pair of rushing TDs and then hooking up with Justice Jones on a 13-yard slant route TD just before halftime.
“I thought he showed a lot of poise. There was one series where he kind of pushed the panic button a little bit, but he came off and he had recognized it, and he said, ‘I just have to calm down,’ ” said Benson. “I feel real good about where he’s at right now, he’s growing up, he’s becoming a leader, and he showed it tonight on the field. He commanded those guys and he commanded the huddle.”
Benson was particularly pleased with how Greer threw the ball, because for the most part he said Mountain Crest’s defense limited the effectiveness of the triple option.
It didn’t really matter, though, thanks to some freebie defensive touchdowns.
After Highland opened up a 37-0 lead midway through the third quarter on a Greer touchdown, Mountain Crest finally got on the scoreboard late in the quarter to make it 37-7.
Not long after, lightning strikes that had been ominous on the horizon finally forced the refs to halt play for roughly 40 minutes at the 9:22 mark of the fourth quarter. When the game finally resumed, Highland’s defense got a quick stop and then ran out the final seven minutes for the victory.
“It’s opening game and it’s a win, and it’s back to the drawing board and we’ll start working tomorrow,” said Benson.
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