The Highland Rams probably don't watch many Alfred Hitchcock movies, because clearly this football team does not like suspense.
For the second straight playoff game the Rams took the mystery away early as to which team would win, in their 35-13 romp over the East Leopards on Thursday afternoon in the Class 4A state semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Well, the Rams jumped to a 35-0 lead midway through the second quarter by scoring five touchdowns in their first 15 offensive plays. Do the math — that's one touchdown in every three plays. The Rams racked up almost 250 yards of total offense before the Leopards had a first down. The Rams' 35 points came in less than six minutes of possession, and they came against an East team that had beaten Timpview and Cottonwood in the past few weeks.
"We got a couple of quick scores, and I think that had (the Leopards) sitting back a little bit," Highland coach Ray Groth said.
Sitting back a little bit is an understatement. The deflated Leopards were in such a deep hole early that they went for it on a fourth-and-five from their own 37-yard line in the second quarter. Also, in an attempt to get back in the game, East already had resorted to the onside kick with more than two quarters to play.
"They're very aggressive with their defense, and we thought we had a good scheme for them, but they just disrupted our offensive flow," East coach Aaron Whitehead said. "And we thought we had a good defensive scheme as well, but we just broke down in a couple of places, and you can't do that and expect to stop a team as explosive as Highland."
Groth also thinks the Leopards suffered from the same semifinal nervousness the Rams showed in last year's semifinal blowout loss to Timpview.
"I don't think they were quite ready to play emotionally in that first quarter, which allowed us to get up on them and I think that was the difference. Plus our kids were really, really pumped. They wanted this real bad, there was no question about it," Groth said.
And as Whitehead said, the Rams defensive line and linebacker corps caused all kinds of problems for Mitch Curtis and Jake Cook, the Leopards' two main offensive weapons. East totaled minus 11 yards and one turnover on its first four possessions, which resulted in Highland getting excellent field position each time. The Rams first four possessions started on their own 45, East's 29, their own 43 and East's 25.
"We came out ready to play and just shut them down in the first half," Rams linebacker David Fagergren said. "We wanted to let them know that we were here and that we were ready to play some playoff football."
The Rams went ahead 7-0 on a five-play 55-yard drive that was capped with a 31-yard touchdown scamper by quarterback Tom Bradley. Their second drive took only one play, a 29-yard cut-back run by Aton Sykes. Following an interception deep in East territory by Sam Bergen, Bradley then hit Jake Orchard over the middle two plays later to make the score 21-0.
On Highland's first possession of the second quarter, Bradley found a seam in East's defense and slipped into the open field for a 39-yard touchdown run. On the very first play after taking over on downs in East territory, Bradley threw deep to 6-feet-5 Les Brown, who outreached the Leopards' defender to give the Rams a five-touchdown lead.
East finally put together an 8-play 82-yard scoring drive late in the second quarter, with the big play being a 52-yard screen pass to Cook. The Leopards added another score late in the third quarter when Cook broke free untouched for a 47-yard touchdown run.
"We tightened the bolts down in the second half but it was just too little too late," Whitehead said. "But this is a great group of kids. I wished things had turned out differently for them, but they need to hold their heads up high."