High School Football

‘He was a wrecking machine.’ All-American leads Highland football to 5A state final

Highland’s Tommy Togiai and Spencer McSpadden stop Rocky Mountain’s Duanavan Jardine behind the line of scrimmage Friday in the 5A state semifinals at Rocky Mountain.
Highland’s Tommy Togiai and Spencer McSpadden stop Rocky Mountain’s Duanavan Jardine behind the line of scrimmage Friday in the 5A state semifinals at Rocky Mountain. jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

The Rocky Mountain High football team knew it had its hands full Friday with Highland’s Tommy Togiai.

But the U.S. Army All-American lived up to the hype, racking up three sacks, suplexing a pair of Grizzly running backs and caving in the offensive line all night to lead the Rams to a 26-3 victory in the 5A state semifinal at Rocky Mountain High.

“Togiai, he was a wrecking machine,” Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig said. “We didn’t do a very good job of going away from him and getting outside.”

The win lifts No. 4 Highland (9-1) into its 18th state championship game in the IHSAA era, where it will host No. 1 Coeur d’Alene (9-2) at 5:30 p.m. next Friday at Holt Arena.

No. 3 Rocky Mountain (9-3) entered Friday averaging 379 rushing yards per game and 7.3 yards per carry since guard Keeghan Freeborn, a Boise State commit, returned to the lineup a month ago. But Togiai and the rest of the Rams suffocated the Grizzlies’ option attack, holding Rocky Mountain to a season-low 104 rushing yards, a season-low 189 total yards and the fewest points by a Rocky Mountain team since a 45-0 loss to Coeur d’Alene in the 2012 state quarterfinals.

“We’ve got some good people up front,” Highland coach Gino Mariani said. “Tommy Togiai is the real deal. I’ve never had a kid like that who is so dominating up front. You’ve got to double- and triple-team him, and that frees up a lot of guys.”

Two of the state’s top defenses settled in for a slugfest through the first three quarters. Rocky Mountain’s Kyle Van Tonder opened the scoring with a 27-yard field in the second quarter, but the Grizzlies never scored again. Running back Carter Kuehl, an Air Force commit, left the game with 1 minute left in the first quarter with a knee injury, and the Grizzlies’ couldn’t find any running room without him or get their passing offense on track.

Highland entered the fourth quarter with a 9-3 lead before taking over; Landon Demuzio threw a 3-yard TD pass and then added a 3-yard TD run to put the game away. The junior running back and Wildcat quarterback didn’t slide into the Rams’ starting lineup until Week 5, when injuries at running back mounted. But he’s become Highland’s most dangerous weapon since.

His 174 total yards and two TDs Friday give him 1,063 yards and 17 TDs in Highland’s last six games.

“I think at the start of the season, we just didn’t know how to use him because he could be in so many spots,” Togiai said. “But now we’ve got it figured out. He’s dominating.”

The win puts Highland in the 5A state championship game for the third time in five years and sets up a battle between the state’s two Army All-Americans: Togiai and Coeur d’Alene quarterback Colson Yankoff.

Yankoff, a Washington commit, threw for 294 yards and two TDs, and added another 80 yards and a TD on the ground Friday to snap Mountain View’s 14-game winning streak with a 39-13 win at the Kibbie Dome.

But after stuffing Rocky Mountain’s heralded running game, Togiai said the Rams are looking forward to the test.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said. “We want to play the best and beat the best.”

Michael Lycklama: 208-377-6424, @MichaelLycklama