In the eyes of Bengal opponents this season, Brighton's stifling defense has become quite offensive - at times not only halting drives but turning turnovers into scoring plays as well.
In Thursday night's 20-3 4A quarterfinal playoff victory over Highland at Rice Stadium, the Bengal defense didn't score - it didn't need to this time, thanks to an adequate three-TD performance by Brighton's wishbone offense.More importantly, though, the Bengal defense didn't allow a Ram touchdown.
"Our goal was to control the ball and keep them off the field," said Brighton Coach Lynn Freestone, highlighting the success of quick-pursuit, hard-hitting defenders like Joshua Kilgrow, Griffin Reynaud and Jeff Grada.
The Bengal defense has allowed a total of 73 points in 11 games this season - including the 28 points scored by Alta in Brighton's sole defeat earlier this year.
"There was no doubt our defense was better, but we relied too much on our defense in the first half," said Bengal QB Jason Ward of Thursday night's game. "The second half was a lot better."
And what made the difference in the second half? "We got yelled at at halftime for not holding onto the ball," Ward admitted.
Ironically, that was just one of the several problems for Highland and its Not Ready For Prime-Time Offense. No fewer than a half-dozen pitches in the Rams' wishbone attack went awry, with the backfield miscues appearing more like baseball wild pitches and passed balls.
More indicators of Highlands' inability to move the ball was a passing total of 6 yards, only one first-half first down and seven total for the game, poor third-down conversion attempts, and 85 yards of total offense. In fact, the Rams boasted a mere 2 yards of total offense after the first half and had negative yardage for a while during the third quarter.
Despite the offense - or lack thereof - the Rams only trailed 6-3 at halftime.
Brighton scored on the game's opening possession, aided in part by a broken fourth-down punt play, when Aaron Menlove bobbled a bad snap and decided to avoid the oncoming rush by running - for a first down, no less. Seven plays later, Ward hit a very open Dan North coming out of the backfield for a 30-yard scoring pass. Highland's Ryan Steele blocked Jason Gunderson's PAT kick.
The Rams endured the rest of the Bengals' first-half scoring attempts. A Jeff Leiber interception and 35-yard return halted one drive, giving Highland the ball at the Brighton 39 midway through the second quarter.
The Rams moved the ball - but it was backwards, with a first-and-10 soon becoming a fourth-and-26. However, opportunity knocked twice for Highland, when Ward fumbled while being sacked on Brighton's subsequent play, with Rob Hoew recovering from the Rams at the Bengal 21 with 36 seconds before halftime. Nathan Rafferty kicked a 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining to bring Highland to a 6-3 deficit, with North's 75-yard return of the ensuing kickoff ending up 15 yards short of the end zone as the half expired.
In the third quarter, Brighton scored on what one press-box observer called an "Astro fumble." Kilgrow lost the football being hit on an off-tackle dive, with the ball bouncing off the artificial turf and into the arms of Reynaud, who continued as if pitched the ball for a 15-yard scoring play. The Bengals' subsequent two-point conversion started with a pitch from Ward to North, who in turn completed a scoring pass back to Ward.
The Bengals increased their lead to 20-3 later in the third, with a 41-yard keeper by Ward setting up a 4-yard scoring burst by Kilgrow.
Highland showed some second-half flashes of offense, including a couple of key third-quarter runs by Ram QB Brad Harris and a somewhat sustained drive early in the fourth.
Brighton, now with a 10-1 overall record, faces Region 2 peer Orem in next week's semifinals; Highland finishes the season with an 8-3 mark.