For the second week in a row, Highland coach Brock Farrel challenged his team to set the tone early on.
The Hawks did just that to open the pandemic-delayed season against Desert Ridge and delivered again Friday night in a 42-10 rout of visiting Desert Vista.
“We always ask the team whether we compare ourselves to our opponent or us. The answer is always us,” Farrel said. “I feel like we’ve done a good job setting the tone, physicality wise. We need to continue to do that because the schedule only gets harder from here.”
Highland’s offense capitalized on all but two possessions in the first half, quickly building to a 28-point lead in the first quarter alone.
Junior quarterback Gage Dayley opened the game with a 69-yard deep ball to wideout Hunter Stewart. Senior defensive back Ammon Allen picked off Desert Vista sophomore quarterback Jackson Akins and returned it for the Hawks’ second score of the quarter.
Just three minutes later, senior running back Max Davis set up junior Steven Trujillo for the two-yard score. Late in the first quarter Dayley found senior wideout Logan Kingsford on fourth down that turned into a 41-yard touchdown.
“All the coaches, all the game plans, they help us be successful,” Dayley said. “They’re the masterminds and its our job to execute. I think we did that and set the tone by scoring on our fifth play and then having the defense get a three-and-out. That was our goal.”
Highland went on to score twice more in the second and third quarters, respectively. Both came behind the legs of Davis, who rushed for 97 yards on the night in two-and-a-half quarters. Dayley, who sat the second half, completed 7 of his 9 pass attempts for 119 yards and the two touchdowns.
Desert Vista, who was without star junior running back Devon Grubbs, struggled to find any momentum on offense.
The quarterback duo of Akins and junior Kaden Lentz was unable to capitalize against Highland’s front-seven. Both quarterbacks were pressured, leading to mistimed passes that often fell incomplete.
Sophomore running back Quinton Ivey had lead-back responsibilities for the Thunder but was bottled up on most of his runs. Open running lanes from his young offensive line quickly collapsed, as he was held to just 23 yards on the night.
“We’ve got to get our run-game going,” Hinds said. "There's no quit in this group and we are going to get better."
Hinds went on to add this may be the youngest team he’s ever coached in his 20-year tenure at Desert Vista. It also happens to be the first team to ever start the season with two consecutive losses.
But all that aside, Hinds has confidence not only in his coaching staff but his players to find answers for their mishaps through the first two games.
“We don’t have a lot of varsity experience and it’s hard to make the jump from freshman to varsity,” Hinds said. “But I look forward to coming out every week with the team. I know they’re going to get better.”
The win for Highland (2-0) was the fourth straight on Marquis Cooper Night, an annual tradition honoring the life of former Hawk and Washington Husky Marquis Cooper, who passed away tragically in a boating accident off the coast of Florida in 2010.
The Cooper family, including the now-retired sports anchor Bruce Cooper, a legendary future in Arizona sports from the pros down to high school, is usually in attendance to honor a player with the Marquis Cooper Scholarship. Cooper's mother and uncle were present while Bruce was announcing Chandler's game against Pinnacle.
It was a special moment for Allen, who received the $3,000 check that will go toward his college education.
“It was amazing,” Allen said. “It was truly an honor. I’m grateful my coaches see me as that great of a young man. I hope the players and people I meet think of me in the same way.”
Desert Vista (0-2) will look to next week against Basha (0-2) for its first victory of the season. Highland (2-0), meanwhile, will face Sandra Day O’Connor (1-1).
“We just have to set the tone again,” Farrel said. “O’Connor is getting better and better each year. Their offense presents some unique challenges, but it also gives us opportunities for turnovers.”