BOISE — Playing their fourth consecutive road game, down a star running back, facing one of the state’s best players with the season on the line, the Highland Rams had plenty working against them.
That’s a rarity for one of Idaho’s premiere football programs, but on Friday, it was a reality.
It didn’t matter. Highland dominated the second half, beating Borah and do-it-all superstar Austin Bolt 27-21 at Dona Larsen Park in Boise to advance to the 5A state semifinals.
It’s the Rams’ eighth final-four appearance this decade.
“I knew what kind of game it was going to be, and I knew what kind of athlete Bolt was, and I knew it was going to be: could we stop him in the big moments?” Highland coach Gino Mariani said. “We were able to. That’s what gave us the win.”
Borah needed six points and 73 yards on its final possession, which started after Highland’s Ian Hershey made a 35-yard field goal for a 27-21 lead with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Bolt, Borah’s first-year starting quarterback who also does just about everything else for the Lions, was swarmed by Highland’s defense and managed gains of 2 yards and 1 yard on Borah’s first two plays of the drive, before being sacked for a 7-yard loss on third down.
He was chased out of the pocket on fourth-and-14, and his crossfield heave fell incomplete, all but sealing the win for the Rams.
Highland quarterback Easton Durham rushed for 3 yards on third-and-2 a few plays later, sending Highland into the victory formation with 1:11 to play.
The Rams’ raucous cheering section erupted behind Highland’s bench, as their heroes dashed the dreams of another rival on their home field.
“It was a team effort, all the way around,” Durham said. “We came out knowing (the task) we had at hand with Austin Bolt: to contain him and put points on the board and execute what we had to do.”
Bolt entered the game averaging 148.7 rushing yards and 2.9 rushing touchdowns per game, and Borah (7-3) hadn’t scored fewer than 30 points since Week 3.
The three-star recruit managed 52 yards on 18 carries Friday, and his only trip to the end zone was a touchdown reception just before halftime, tying the score at 14.
Bolt broke runs of 15 and 17 yards, but was otherwise bottled up by Highland’s defensive front.
“We just had to keep him in the pocket,” Highland defensive lineman JJ Flores said. “That’s what our biggest struggle was, but we did it.”
Bolt also played defense and special teams for the Lions, and despite Highland’s attempts to keep the ball out of his hands, gave Borah favorable starting field position multiple times after long kickoff returns.
He also intercepted Durham early in the fourth quarter. He then lost a fumble four plays later, which Highland recovered and turned into three points on a 35-yard Hershey field goal, breaking a 21-21 tie.
Borah’s final miscue was a fumble deep in its own territory, and a dead-ball penalty moved the Rams even closer to paydirt. That set up Hershey’s final 3-pointer and the game’s final score.
Highland (8-3) played nearly the whole game without record-setting junior running back Kaleb Demuzio. The Rams’ workhorse hobbled off the field after his first carry and never returned.
He was replaced by freshman Mason Fullmer, who was called up from Highland’s junior varsity squad after Dalton Jones, Demuzio’s complementary back, suffered an injury Oct. 11 against Century. He answered the call by rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Fullmer mirrored Demuzio’s tough straight-ahead running style, and rumbled for a 2-yard touchdown to give the Rams a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter. He helped Highland own time of possession in the third quarter, when the Rams ran 24 plays to Borah’s five.
Fullmer entered the game with 10 carries this season.
“I was definitely nervous,” Fullmer said. “I couldn’t do it without the O-line, everyone else. It wasn’t just a personal effort, it was everyone out there.”
After the game, Mariani said Demuzio’s knee has a bursa sac that needs to be drained, adding that he’s 50-50 for Highland’s state semifinal game.
“Between (Fullmer) and some of the younger kids, we’ll just keep working with it,” Mariani said.
Durham also picked up the slack for his banged-up offensive cohort.
The junior rushed 15 times for 63 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and converted five third downs via the run or the pass in the third frame, when the Rams went 6 of 7 on third down.
He also completed 12 of 24 passes for 86 yards, an interception and a 28-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Duffin that gave Highland a 21-14 lead in the third.
The Rams will be challenged again next week, when they travel north to Coeur d’Alene for the state semis. It’ll be the team’s fifth consecutive road game and will up the trek’s mileage to nearly 2,000.
One more road win, and Highland gets to return home to play for the title.
“This all comes down to heart and if we want it or not,” Durham said. “We know we’ve got the talent and we know we’ve got the personnel and the coaching staff to get us there. It’s just whether we execute, do our jobs and take it home.
“We’re trying to get this back to the dome. That’s the goal.”
HIGHLAND 27, BORAH 21
Highland 7 7 7 6 — 27
Borah 6 8 7 0 — 21
B — Gardner 40 pass from Bolt (pass failed), 10:27
H — Durham 25 run (Hershey kick), 7:23
H — Fullmer 2 run (Hershey kick), 11:18
B — Bolt 7 pass from Gray (Bolt pass from Gray), 0:03
H — Duffin 28 pass from Durham (Hershey kick), 6:24
B — Pruitt 25 run (88 kick), 4:36
H — Hershey 35 field goal, 6:24
H — Hershey 35 field goal, 3:34
Passing — Highland: Durham 12-24-86-1-1. Borah: Bolt 13-21-136-1-0. Gray 1-1-7-1-0.
Rushing — Highland: Demuzio 1-5, Duffin 1-7, Fullmer 23-115-1, Durham 15-63-1, Potter 2-8. Borah: Bolt 18-52, Phimmasone 3-2, Pruitt 4-21-1.
Receiving — Highland: Wilhelm 1-10, Fullmer 1-4, Potter 6-26, King 1-0, Duffin 2-40-1, Huelsman 1-6. Borah: Gardner 1-40-1, Baker 4-33, Phimmasone 1-3, Pruitt 5-39, Niederer 1-6, Bolt 1-7-1, Toth 1-15.