As the final seconds of the game dwindled off the scoreboard clock Thursday night, the entire Skyline sideline converged at the middle of Highland's football field. They hugged, jumped up and down together and raised their index fingers in exhilaration.
A few Skyline players even shed some tears after their 13-6 win over the Rams in the season-opener for the two top-ranked teams in the state. It was a late-November-type celebration on a made-for-football August evening.Though it was officially a nonregion game, the victory was hardly a meaningless one for the three-time defending-champion Eagles. As they showed, revenge and pride count for a lot in the preseason.
And that's what this game was all about for Skyline. In each of their past two championship seasons, after all, the Eagles only two losses came against Highland.
The thing that really stuck in the craw of the Skyline players was what happened during last year's season opener. Highland crushed the Eagles at Skyline, holding them without an offensive score in a 29-7 win.
Thursday was payback time.
"They don't just come on our field and beat us like they did last year and get away with it," said Skyline receiver Richard Davis.
He made sure of it.
The quick junior scored both of the top-ranked Eagles' touchdowns on - get this - long pass plays from quarterback Danny Beecroft.
"He came through with a couple of big catches," said Beecroft after his first game as the starting playmaker in Skyline's vaunted wishbone offense. "I've been throwing to him a lot in practice. He's pretty much my go-to guy."
Davis made Beecroft look good on their first touchdown, which came on Skyline's first pass attempt of the season. Davis snagged Beecroft's bomb after acrobatically leaping over the back of Highland defensive back Shawn Madry to reach it. He then cruised into the end zone to complete the 40-yard scoring play.
Highland answered later in the quarter when Ben Hill rumbled to paydirt from three yards out to tie the game at 6-all. Hill's TD was set up by back-to-back long runs by the Rams - his own 39-yard rush and a 50-yard scamper by quarterback Lance Aguirre.
With time running out in the first half, Skyline coaches decided to air it out again. This time Beecroft found Davis dashing wide open through the middle of the Highland defense on a cross-pattern. Davis zipped to the right of the Rams for a 56-yard touchdown reception.
So much for Skyline's powerful option rushing attack. The two pass plays gave the Eagles 96 yards passing vs. only 74 yards on the ground in the first half.
"We might up it to seven or eight passes next week," joked Skyline coach Roger DuPaix when asked if his three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust team might look to pass more in the future based on Thursday's success.
In reality, the air attack was just a passing fancy. Even Skyline's talented, young wide receiver realizes that.
"Those were just a couple of lucky catches," Davis said. "We're not a passing team. We're a running team."
Or at least the Eagles hope to be again. Injuries to running backs Aaron Sain and Brodie Reid along with the tough Highland defense made going on the ground tough for Skyline.
"I think we passed well," DuPaix said. "But we're going to live or die on the running game. We will get better next week."
Highland's offense didn't even resemble the high-powered machine it was a year ago. Of course, the Rams' biggest problem was that Morgan Scalley, Utah's Mr. Football in 1997, was on the sideline wearing a polo shirt and shorts. The graduated Highland star, who is in the University of Utah system, is helping coach while he awaits an LDS mission call.
Hill had a nice game, finishing with about 109 yards rushing. But that was about all the offense the Rams could muster.
The Eagles' defense was especially tough in crunch time. They stuffed the Rams on fourth-down plays twice in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter. Skyline junior Troy Maxfield doused Highland's last hopes when he sacked Aguirre on fourth down with 1:27 left.