Friday won't be a new stage for Highland. The Rams are used to be playing in late November, used to be playing in state championship games.

Arguably the most successful 5A program in Idaho history, the Rams will attempt to go for state title No. 12 in the IHSAA era against Rigby inside Holt Arena on Friday. 

Highland coach Gino Mariani, who will be coaching in his 11th state title game and searching for his fifth blue trophy since taking over in 2001, has called his 2021 squad "blue collar."

The Rams do not have the Taysom Hill or Tristen Hoge or Tommy Togiai or unequivocal Power-5 prospect guiding them. Instead, they have a collection of talented pieces who have worked together to create some history.

"This was the first time a two-seed in my tenure made the state title game," Mariani said. "We beat Rocky (Mountain) at Rocky ... they beat us the last three times we faced them. And we beat Eagle at Eagle. I don't know if we've ever beat Eagle at Eagle."

On Friday, the Rams will face off against a Rigby team they've fallen to in their last three meetings. So what's it going to take for Highland to knock off the Trojans and claim another state championship?


Adolpho might be the best quarterback in the state. Highland can’t stop him. They know that — but they may be able to limit him. In the Rams’ and Trojans’ first meeting of the year, the Weber State commit threw just just over 100 yards but was lethal with his feet, taking off 13 times for 162 yards. What hurts Adolpho and Rigby’s offense is the injury to Taylor Freeman, the Trojans’ star receiver who was injured in the playoffs. Still, Adolpho is the cog that pushes Rigby forward. Restrain him and you restrain the Trojans.

“If he’s dropping back to pass, we’re obviously not going to open up and let him run — then that’s trouble,” Highland defensive end Kody Colvin said. “But on certain run plays, having him run up exactly the gap we want him to and have (linebacker) Mason Fuller hit the gap — I mean, everyone knows how hard he can hit gaps.”


Highland can beat teams in different ways. That’s what makes the Rams so good. At times, they’ve let quarterback Jack Whitmer air it out to receivers Jaxon Shuman and Raimon Barela and Highland used chunk plays to move down the field. Other times, the Rams choose to be more methodical. They use Whitmer along with running backs Eli Parrish and Jackson Riddle as this three-headed monster in the backfield.

That was how Highland beat the Eagles. They ran the ball often. They controlled the clock. They kept the ball away from the Mustangs. With how productive Rigby’s offense has been this season (The Trojans are scoring almost 40 points a game), it’s imperative that Adolpho has the ball as little time as possible.

“It’s going to be a cat-and-mouse game,” Highland coach Gino Mariani said.


In the initial meeting between these two teams, Rigby’s front dominated — and it caused, perhaps, the worst offensive execution Highland had all season. The Rams hardly ran the ball over the century mark. It consistently was in poor down-and-distances. And Whitmer threw a season-worst three interceptions. Highland can’t win if it turns the ball over that many times — and keeping Whitmer safe in the pocket is the key to ensuring that.

Against Rocky Mountain — really the only team Highland has faced that compares to the size and physicality of Rigby — Whitmer only completed 10 passes for 87 yards while tossing an interception. The Rams had to come back from an 18-point halftime deficit and needed heroics from kicker Ian Hershey to edge out that win. They may not be able to garner the same result if that happens on Friday.