WEST VALLEY CITY — Highland High’s nickname has been the Rams since the school opened in 1956, but this year, coach Brody Benson is calling his football team the Warriors, as in the “Road Warriors.”
Playing all of their games on the road because Salt Lake City’s coronavirus restrictions won’t permit fans inside their home stadium, the Rams finally got a break Friday night after starting with two losses.
Maea Giles returned a punt for a touchdown and Ashton Olevao intercepted two passes in the fourth quarter as Highland outlasted Granger 31-14 in a nonregion game to give the Rams their first win.
“It’s a big one,” Benson said. “Always good to get that first one. Now we just need to start a streak.”
Highland led the entire game but never felt comfortable until Olevao returned his second pick 83 yards for a score with less than a minute remaining. Granger, which fell to 2-1, showed signs of having a quick-strike offense, but also was guilty of silly mistakes, such as four fumbles and 12 penalties.
An 11-yard run by Ben Boren, Giles’s interception, another 11-yard scamper by Peizge Mailei and a short field goal by impressive-looking kicker Julian Watrin gave Highland a 24-0 lead.
“We may have come out a little overconfident after halftime and they changed up their defense,” Benson said.
Either way, touchdown runs by Desmond Fue and Tevita Finau cut the margin to 24-14. Granger had chances to get even closer, but Highland defensive linemen Ezra Abalos, Christian Hilborn, Marion Lotulelei and Henry Slack stopped the Lancers’ runs, and then Granger quarterback Kadius Fuimaono had to get points quickly with the clock running out, but Olevao made the key plays.
Highland also benefited from a stronger special teams unit. Besides Giles’ punt return, Watrin proved to be a valuable asset. He made all four of his extra-point tries, kicked a 29-yard field goal and narrowly missed a 47-yarder (wide left). Nearly all of Waltrin’s kickoffs reached the end zone, and Granger was unable to generate any punt returns.
“I’ve been trying to recruit him off the soccer team since he was a sophomore,” Benson said.
Extra efforts like those will likely be necessary as Highland tries to continue its winning tradition in 2020 without playing a home game. This win was special because it was the first, but also because it was against Benson’s alma mater.
“I hope they win every game, except (this) one,” he said. “They have some talent. If they put it together, they could go a long way this year.”