SALT LAKE CITY — Box Elder entered Friday's 4A playoff game prepared to stop the Highland option attack.
The Bees could stack the box, not let quarterback Anthony Smithson get outside and hopefully escape with a victory. They did the first two things successfully, but what they weren't prepared for was the aerial assault displayed by the Rams. Highland went to the air and flew past Box Elder 35-21 in the first round of the state playoffs.
"They came out and put eight, nine guys in the box and really tried to keep us bottled up," said Rams coach Brody Benson. "When we saw that, we knew we needed to spread them out a little. What people may not realize is that we have some athletes here that can catch the ball. We have some guys that make plays out there."
The leading playmaker for Highland was wide receiver and defensive end Nate Fakahafua. The University of Utah recruit showed why the Utes are so interested in his services. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior lit up the Box Elder defense all game to the tune of 134 yards on six catches with two touchdowns.
"We thought they would come out in double coverage on me, but they didn't. We just took advantage of it," said Fakahafua.
For good measure, he displayed more of his athleticism on defense when he dropped into coverage and intercepted a pass, which he returned 28 yards for a third score.
"That's what we do in practice, we read screens," he said. "What we do in practice, we translate to games."
Fakahafua scored the first three touchdowns for the Rams — the first on a 21-yard catch and run; the second on a corner of the end zone, over-the-shoulder 17-yard grab; and the third on the interception. Box Elder's Justus Brown had a 31-yard touchdown grab that made it 7-7 after Fakahafua's first score, but Highland never let off the gas the entire first half. Smithson ran a two-minute drill to perfection right before the break to extend the lead to 28-7 with only four seconds remaining when he threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hayes Hicken. It capped a brilliant two quarters for the junior signal caller as he completed 11-of-12 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns.
"He made a lot of good throws," said Benson. "He didn't really force anything, and he just put the ball out there where our guys could make a play on it. He made good reads and played really well."
In the third quarter, Highland continued where it left off. The defense forced a three-and-out, and with 8:15 remaining in the quarter, the Rams left little doubt which team would be advancing to face the Pine View vs. Maple Mountain winner next week when Toi Taufa punched one in from two yards out for a 35-7 lead.
Sean Smith had a 21-yard touchdown run for the Bees on their next possession, but the final score for Box Elder came with only 22 seconds remaining to cap the scoring.
"It's just business as usual," said Benson on facing either team next week. "We have some things to work on, but we will get back at it and be ready to go."