MILLVILLE — Both teams made big plays on offense, defense and special teams Friday night.
Each made mistakes as well.
It came down to the final minutes and visiting Highland from Idaho was able to escape northern Utah with a win. The Rams scored the final 16 points of the game to pick up the victory against Ridgeline, 16-13.
“The first half didn’t go as we had planned, obviously,” said Highland quarterback Easton Durham, who passed for 130 yards and rushed for another 130. “We weren’t executing. The second half we really came together as a team. The O-line did freaking awesome. Defense had some big plays to give us a chance. We hung in there and was able to squeeze it out.”
In fact, it was Durham, his legs and a big Ram offensive line that proved to be the difference. The junior signal caller rushed for two touchdowns in the second half, including what turned out to be the game-winner with 1:48 to play.
Trailing 13-3 at halftime, Highland (1-1) came out and shut out the Riverhawks (2-2) over the final two quarters. Ridgeline had opportunities, but just couldn’t cash in. Early in the fourth quarter the Riverhawks went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2 and lost a yard. They had a first-and-goal from the 2, but four running plays went nowhere.
“I was really proud of the team for the way they fought and battled tonight,” Ridgeline head coach Travis Van Leeuwen said. “They gave themselves a chance to win. ... At the end of the day, we just weren’t able to find a way to make plays to get the win. It starts with me. I could have been better to help us win that football game.”
Durham scored his second TD on a 5-yard scamper with 1:48 to play, giving the Rams their first lead of the game.
The Riverhawks made it interesting as Evan Webb returned the ensuing kickoff 40 yards to give the hosts good field position with all three timeouts remaining. Ridgeline converted a fourth-and-2 play when Webb caught a 4-yard pass from Kaden Cox. The Riverhawks reached the Rams 39, but couldn’t convert a fourth-and-10, and turned the ball over with less than 30 seconds to play.
“We made enough mistakes to lose the game for sure, but we made enough plays in the end to get it done,” Highland head coach Gino Mariani said. “Good job in the fourth, getting a score and defense hanging on.”
Both defenses came up with an interception. Ridgeline blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt and an extra point, while Highland blocked a punt that led to the Rams’ first TD on the very next play, a 8-yard run by Durham.
Rhett Gebert had a monster game for the Riverhawks. The senior recorded a sack in the first quarter, picked off a pass and returned it 33 yards in the second quarter and blocked the Highland field goal attempt in the third quarter.
“He is an incredible player and leader for us,” Van Leeuwen said. “He’s worked his tail off. That kid really carried us and did an incredible job of putting us in a position to win. I’m proud of his efforts. Unfortunately, we had some things not go our way.”
“It’s all an effort thing and starts in practice,” Gebert said. “We had a good game plan, but just couldn’t come through. We just got to come back.”
Ridgeline began the game without its starting running back as Jovesa Damuni was nursing a sore shoulder. They lost running back Noah White to an injured collarbone just before halftime after he rushed for 30 yards in the first half.
“We battled some adversity with injuries,” Van Leeuwen said. “We wanted him (Damuni) to get healthy before we get into region. We felt confident even though we didn’t have him. Then we lost Noah White, which affected our game plan. We had to move guys around.”
On their second possession of the game, the Riverhawks drove 62 yards to paydirt. The hosts converted two third-and-long plays to keep the march alive. Cox hit a wide open Webb for a 27-yard TD seven minutes into the contest.
Ridgeline made it 13-0 with five minutes left in the opening half. This time Cox found Cameron Dahle from 10 yards out. A bad snap on the extra point prevented an attempt. Cox would finish with 226 yards passing on 23 of 33 attempts.
Highland then used a 17-play drive to reach the Riverhawk 3-yard line. On fourth down and with one second before the break, the Rams elected to kick a field goal. Ian Hershey booted a 20-yarder to get the visitors on the scoreboard at halftime.
“It’s a team effort,” Gebert said. “We just made little mistakes. ... We will come ready to play against Bear River. I know we will.”
A year ago Highland beat Ridgeline 45-7 in Pocatello. While the Riverhawks have made improvements, the loss stung.
Now Ridgeline turns its attention to Bear River and the Region 11 opener next week.
“I feel very confident with where we are heading into region,” Van Leeuwen said. “I’m proud of both sides of the ball. ... We will focus on one opponent at a time and first we have Bear River.”