MURRAY The Highland Rams made some technical changes to their offense at halftime, but it was the attitude adjustments that really made the difference as Highland upset second-ranked Cottonwood on the Colts' homecoming night.
"We made a few adjustments to our offense ... but I think it was an attitude change also," said Highland head coach Brody Benson after the 17-14 victory. "They came out and just played for each other. We started playing as a team, and it showed. You've got to love the guy next to you to play this game."
Benson took a deep breath and put his hands in his pocket just moments after his team celebrated their upset of the Colts. He smiled at a question regarding the pressure on Highland coming into the game.
"None at all," he said shaking his head. "All of these games have pressure. That's what football is all about."
The first half was a defensive battle, with Cottonwood earning the edge. The Colts playing without their head coach, Cecil Thomas, who was suspended for publicly criticizing the officials two weeks ago held Highland to 50 yards offense in the first half.
The Colts defense was suffocating, especially on a Highland drive at the beginning of the second quarter. The first play of the second quarter, Lynn Katoa sacked the Highland quarterback for a loss of five yards.
The next play, Jason Bilanzich sacked the quarterback for minus two yards. Rams' quarterback Critter Nielson completed a pass to Rahseam Sykes for 11 yards, but then Asi Hosea partially blocked Highland's punt, which went just seven yards.
"They caused us some fits in the first half," Benson said of the Colt defense.
Unfortunately, Cottonwood squandered that field position when the ball was fumbled on the 26-yard line and recovered by Highland's John Moala. In fact, of six fumbles in the game, Cottonwood only recovered one.
Cottonwood did score first with 3:34 left in the second quarter on a 57-yard pass play, where Steve Romero connected with Rich Tukuafu.
Highland answered on the first drive of the third quarter when Tevita Kinikini ran 59 yards for a touchdown. The junior finished with 115 yards rushing.
Both teams scored again in the third quarter, but it would be Chandler Petty's 39-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter that would give the Rams the edge.
It was a defensive play, however, that ensured the victory for Highland as Sam Nielson intercepted a pass at the 30-yard-line with 2:25 left in the game.
"The defense the past three weeks has kept us in games," said Benson. "To hold this Cottonwood team to 14 points is amazing."
Cottonwood assistant Tom Jones said the Colts gave up a couple of big plays and that was enough to allow the game to slip away."They did a great job of stopping us on offense," he said. "It was a well-played, well-fought game."