POCATELLO – Whether Highland is inches from a touchdown or in third-and-long, the Rams have determined running the ball isn't a bad bet.
They're not wrong, as the new run-heavy Highland offense effortlessly marched up and down the field in Friday's home game against Twin Falls.
The Rams launched their 39-7 win by converting two third-and-longs on rushes on their first drive. Quarterback Easton Durham converted a third-and-10 with a run up the middle and the game’s leading rusher, Kaleb Demuzio, gained 9 yards on third-and-8 before Highland netted a field goal.
PHOTOS: Twin Falls-Highland football
The Rams (2-1) ran the ball 40 times for 276 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry.
“The offense executed. They finally did some good things,” Highland coach Gino Mariani said. “That’s one of the things we talked about all week was: our execution in the first two games was extremely poor. We would get penalties that would hurt us and different things and tonight we actually executed the offense and put some points on the board. It was really nice. It was fun to watch.”
Highland scored on every first-half drive to take a 24-7 halftime lead.
The 24 points were already the most Highland had scored in a game this season after losing 23-10 to East (Utah) in its season-opener and beating Ridgeline (Utah) 16-13 last week.
“We wanted to come out and make a statement definitely, especially since our defense has played so well all year,” Durham said. “We just wanted to have their backs because they get a stop almost every single time down the field and we haven’t been able to execute and score.”
For the Rams, it was just doing what they’re best at Friday, which includes using the feet of Durham, who scored the game-winning touchdown last week on the ground.
The junior had big shoes to fill in 2018 Journal All-Area Player of the Year Kobe Tracy, who threw for 2,883 yards last season and guided the Rams to two state title game appearances and one championship.
“Gino adjusts to his players so well,” Durham said. “Kobe was more of a pocket passer and I’m more of a runner, so he’s just adjusted the offense around me.”
Durham started slow in the passing game Friday, but showed how difficult it can be to keep the ball out of the offense’s hands with him leading the way.
In the opening quarter, Highland had 24 offensive plays, compared to Twin Falls’ six. Even when Highland wasn’t using the run game, it looked like it. The Rams often deployed the jet sweep, but by giving the carrier the ball on a forward toss instead of a handoff – a commonality this decade.
Demuzio had Highland’s biggest play of the game on a 34-yard run down the sideline to put his team ahead three scores, 17-0, with 10 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Demuzio led Highland with 101 yards on 12 carries, while Durham had 67 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. The quarterback is still the team’s leading rusher with 185 yards for the season.
“Right now, we’re probably a better running team,” Mariani said. “There’s an adjustment on my part in playcalling. So yeah, we can run the ball on some third-and-longs, but I had confidence in our line and I had confidence in the calls and the backs getting a first down.”
Winning time of possession lends itself to a team like Highland, which also has a defense that continued to hold its own and is allowing 14.3 points per game.
Highland did not allow a first down in five of Twin Falls' first six drives of Friday's game, despite being without 2018 Journal All-Area first-team defensive lineman Kamiah Olsen, who Mariani said will most likely be out at least one more week with a broken hand.
The Rams held Twin Falls to 50 yards passing and minus-4 yards rushing for 46 total yards.
“The D-line did a great job of stalemating it,” Mariani said, “and our linebackers did a great job of coming up and making tackles.”
Highland faces Pocatello next Friday in the annual Black and Blue Bowl at Holt Arena.