POCATELLO — Highland junior cornerback Adam Jones planted himself in the ground like a tree trunk and swung his arms out wide like branches. He stopped near the sideline, in the exact spot Pocatello quarterback Zach Park’s pass touched his receiver’s fingertips, and leaned forward, bracing for impact as the pass dropped dead.
The thud made the hit sound a lot worse than it was. But from the sideline, Highland baseball coach — and football ball boy — Christian Colonel hollered at Jones.
“You probably could have hit him harder,” Colonel said.
“I put my hands up because I didn’t want a call,” Jones responded.
In its 31-7 win over Pocatello in Friday’s Black and Blue Bowl, Highland’s most dangerous foe wasn’t the one in the white jerseys. Rather, it was those pesky yellow pieces of cloth that seemed to rain down after every play.
The Rams controlled the game all night. They had more size, more athleticism and more skill. But just when they seemed to have the game put away, the PA announcer’s voice would bellow with sarcasm and confusion as the refs tried to sort out penalty after penalty.
“Yeah, I don’t even know what to say about that,” Highland coach Gino Mariani said. “I hope officials are getting evaluated, because there was a few of them I didn’t think were there, but, you know, it’s their call.”
When flags weren’t flying, the Rams dominated. And nowhere was that more evident than up front. Even for a mobile quarterback like Poky’s Park, gaining yards was like trying to light a match in a wind tunnel as Highland’s two star defensive linemen, Luke Togiai and Logan George, chased him.
“They’re tough hombres. If you’re a team that likes to pass, you’re going to have a rough night,” Mariani said. “I don’t even like facing them in practice.”
Added Highland quarterback Easton Durham, “I bet he was having hell dealing with them.”
If Park wasn’t, Poky coach Dave Spillett was. He’s faced Togiai and George before and understands the complications they induce into a game plan. He also thought his offensive line could hold on just long enough for Park to, at least, make a read.
That rarely happened, and the situation was made more frustrating by what was going on downfield. Spillett thought his receivers did a fantastic job creating space, noting how many times he saw junior Matt Christensen open. Problem was, Park never had a chance to even look his way.
“He didn’t have a lot of time. I felt like that was the one spot where we were weaker than them, was up front,” Spillett said. “I’ll take our skill guys and those matchups, but it’s hard to capitalize on those matchups when Zach touches the ball and he’s running for his life instantly.
“That’s the best o-line and d-line we’re going to face this year, but I expected our guys to handle it a little bit better than they did.”
Pocatello finished the night with just 134 yards of total offense, a number that becomes even uglier when considering that more than half those yards came from a 75-yard touchdown pass from Park to Casey Bruner.
Durham’s night, however, was the antithesis of Park’s. The Rams quarterback routinely whisked his way through the Poky defenders like they were traffic cones, rushing 10 times for 73 yards and three touchdowns.
“I just took my opportunities when I could,” Durham said. “If I didn’t see anything, I took off and tried to make something happen.”
“He extended plays when something wasn’t there,” Mariani added. “He did an awesome job of running the ball and getting first downs. He scrambled a few times and hit some open guys down the field. That was big for us. He’s doing a great job and we need to keep him playing well.”
And when he had to throw, big plays usually followed. Durham went 12 for 17 for 181 yards and a score, highlighted by a 42-yard touchdown throw to senior Hunter Huelsman that iced the game midway through the fourth quarter.
That’s not to say the Indians didn’t muster a bit of hope along the way. They recovered a muffed punt deep in the Highland zone in the second quarter, but didn’t score. They got within two scores in the third after Bruner’s touchdown. In the fourth, they used four Ram penalties on five plays to advance almost 80 yards into the red zone, but, once again, George sprinted into the backfield and, with his eyes closed, blocked Poky’s 32-yard field goal attempt.
“You take (penalties) away and we shut them down pretty good,” Mariani said.
HIGHLAND 31, POCATELLO 7
Highland 7 7 7 10
Poky 0 0 0 7
HL — QB Easton Durham 4-yard run (Ian Hersey kick)
HL — Durham 1-yard run (Ian Hersey kick)
HL — Durham 11-yard run (Ian Hersey kick)
P — WR Casey Bruner 75-yard pass from QB Zach Park (Kade Jensen kick)
HL — WR Hunter Huelsman 42-yard pass from Durham (Ian Hersey kick)
HL — Hersey 44-yard field goal
RUSHING — Highland: Easton Durham 10-73-3, Kaleb Demuzio 15-78, Drew Hymas 2-26, Eli Parrish 3-9, Jack Whitmer 1-(-2), Jaxon Shuman 2-(-6) … Poky: Ryken Echohawk 10-35, Zach Park 10-7, Matt Christensen 1-5, Dreyson Contreras 1-5, Ryan Payne 2-(-2)
PASSING — Highland: Easton Durham 12-17-181-1-0, Jack Whitmer 4-7-6-0-0 … Poky: Zach Park 7-18-98-1-0
RECEIVING — Highland: Hunter Huelsman 7-119-1, Jaxon Shuman 3-35, Josh Newton 2-18, Raimon Barela 1-11, Kaleb Demuzio 2-6, Eli Parrish 1-(-2) … Poky: Casey Bruner 2-78, Ryan Payne 2-7, Matt Christensen 1-7, Ryken Echohawk 2-6