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Highland survives scare from Panthers

Highland's Critter Nielson breaks the tackle of West's Curtis Green and KC Ubani on Friday night.
Highland's Critter Nielson breaks the tackle of West's Curtis Green and KC Ubani on Friday night.
Bob Plumb, Deseret Morning News

Never, never, never give up. A winner doesn't quit. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. There is a nearly endless supply of cliches that teach this same point, but sometimes you have to see something to understand it.

In a night dominated by West, the Highland Rams, down 21-9 with less than two minutes left in the game, were able to rally for two quick scores to knock off the Panthers, 23-21.

"They're a great football team. Defensively they shut us down," said Rams coach Brody Benson. Highland had only gained 162 yards of total offense nearing the end of the game, and the Panthers had forced four turnovers — two fumbles and two interceptions.

The Rams seemed to have a chance, being down 14-9 after Critter Nielson found Nate Fakahafua in the end zone in the fourth quarter, bringing the deficit to a manageable 5 points. West had a different idea, which was put the game away. Garrett Nicholson, who had just over 275 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, ran the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to put the Panthers up 21-9 with just over six minutes to play.

The Panther defense held tough, as it had done all night, forcing Highland to punt on their own 25. While the Rams' defense forced an immediate punt, they were unable to control the catch, which slipped back into West's hands, seemingly putting things out of reach. Again, however, Highland's defense was up to the task, forcing the Panthers to kick the ball away.

With players on the Rams' bench starting to chant "we gotta believe," they took the field at the nine. Nielson was able to lead them down the field with Rahseam Sykes capping the drive with a 37-yard TD run with under a minute to play.

Highland's Chandler Petty could have put on a clinic showcasing the perfect onside kick, being forced to do it twice due to an offside penalty and a personal foul on the first. The second was just as picturesque as the first, and Max Wood was able to come down with it, giving his team a final shot at the end zone and the game.

"He kicked it perfectly, and I just jumped as high as I could," Wood said.

Nielson and company again took the field on West's 36-yard line, and almost let the game literally slip through their fingers as a fumbled snap forced them to scramble just to keep possession. After a spike to stop the clock, Nielson went back to the 6-foot-3 Fakahafua deep for the score. Petty chipped in the point after, and the Panthers found themselves down 23-21 with just under 25 seconds to play.

West was able to move the ball, and had three shots at the back turf, but had to watch in disbelief and disappointment as time ticked away and the Rams stole the game.

Highland now has a great shot at the Region 6 title, facing the struggling Murray Spartans to close out the regular season.