A horse and a helicopter. Now that’s how to start a high school football game.
It had all the hallmarks of a huge high school football game. A coveted rivalry trophy. Two top-ranked 5A powerhouses. Even a helicopter to drop the game ball.
The action on the field didn’t always match the pregame fireworks as two dominant defenses owned the night. But defending state champion Rocky Mountain rode three big return plays — a punt, an interception and a kickoff — to a 27-7 road victory, retaining the Battle of the Mountains ax and running its winning streak to 14 games.
“It was massive to get two touchdowns on special teams — that’s really hard to overcome,” Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig said. “They have a great defense. We struggled against them all night, and I thought we played pretty good defense too. But the return game, that was the difference.”
Senior defensive back Tiloi Nawahine returned a punt 42 yards for a touchdown, junior linebacker Landon Albert had an 89-yard pick-six and senior receiver Kaden Birch ran back a kickoff for a 70-yard TD to lead top-ranked Rocky Mountain (2-0). Nawahine added two interceptions and gave the Grizzlies a field position advantage with big punt returns throughout the night.
“We want to be a dominant group on defense,” Nawahine said. “We came out here to make big plays, and we capitalized on their mistakes. I got some great blocks on that punt return, and I give the credit to my teammates.”
Nawahine’s return came on the first punt of a night that would feature plenty — 13 in total — as both teams struggled to move the ball. Albert made it 14-0 in the second quarter, snatching a deflected ball as the pocket collapsed around Mountain View quarterback Jake Farris and racing 89 yards untouched.
“It was really special,” Albert said. “We play for each other and we want the offense to perform, but some games the defense has to step up and score touchdowns.”
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Culig elected to have Mountain View (1-1) re-kick after its first attempt sailed out of bounds. The move paid off with Birch galloping 70 yards down the sideline to give the Grizzlies a 21-0 cushion.
Mountain View’s offense established a better rhythm in the second half, but the Mavericks couldn’t finish enough drives to keep pace. Sophomore tailback Leyton Smithson scored a 1-yard TD in the third quarter to trim the deficit, but Nawahine thwarted two promising drives with red-zone interceptions, and the Mavs’ last gasp fell short on downs inside the 10.
Rocky Mountain’s offense provided the exclamation point, with junior tailback Jordan Erickson scoring on a 45-yard swing pass from Colby Jackson. Erickson was bottled up for 43 yards on 14 carries, but added 87 yards on four catches. Jackson threw for 114 yards as the Grizzlies managed 204 total yards.
Smithson ran for 86 yards on 25 carries for Mountain View, with Colby Peugh adding eight catches for 86 yards. The Mavericks managed 279 total yards, but the Grizzlies’ three takeaways and two scores on special teams left Rocky Mountain hoisting the rivalry ax.
“It’s a huge deal and it’s really exciting,” Albert said. “These were two really good teams tonight, and it feels good to have another dog fight and come out on top.”
Rocky Mountain 27, Mountain View 7
RM — Tiloi Nawahine 43 punt return (Steven Stoddard kick) 10:59
RM — Landon Albert 80 interception return (Stoddard kick), 2:48
RM — Kaden Birch 70 kick return (Stoddard kick), 11:50
MV — Leyton Smithson 1 run (Holland kick), 3:40
RM — Jordan Erickson 45 pass from Colby Jackson (attempt failed), 10:53
RUSHING — Rocky Mountain: Jordan Erickson 14-43, Devon Fox 10-53, Colby Jackson 4-(-6). Mountain View: Leyton Smithson 25-86, Jake Farris 10-18, Colby Peugh 2-1, Steven Butler 4-27
PASSING — Rocky Mountain: Jackson 8-16-0 114. Mountain View: Farris 15-31-3 147.
RECEIVING — Rocky Mountain: Erickson 4-87, Noah Kraft 1-15, Max Nead 3-13. Mountain View: Smithson 4-28, Peugh 8-86, Kayden Chan 1-23, Seth Jones 2-10.