Were meant to be big and physical and just win the physical battle with the other team. It kept working, so we just kept going to it. —Thomas Pembroke
SALT LAKE CITY — The ground game is alive and well at Highland High.
In this world of pass-happy spread offenses that throw the ball all over the field, the Rams have opted to employ a triple-option attack that spreads the carries around and essentially aims to run the ball down their opponents' throats.
“That’s our goal pretty much,” senior workhorse running back Thomas Pembroke said after Highland’s impressive 28-6 non-league victory over visiting Northridge on Thursday night. “We’re meant to be big and physical and just win the physical battle with the other team. It kept working, so we just kept going to it."
Pembroke piled up 108 yards rushing, including a 10-yard burst for the game’s first touchdown, on 19 rugged carries to lead a Ram-tough running game that wound up with 253 total yards on the ground. Of Highland’s 44 offensive plays, the Rams ran it 40 times, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
“We’ve got some things we want to fix, just looking to the future,” Pembroke said, "but I was proud of our team effort tonight. I feel like we stepped it up a little tonight, but we still want to keep getting better.”
Jake Boren added 59 yards on just five carries, and sophomore quarterback James Pembroke had 49 more yards on three carries, including a 38-yard scoring scamper in the fourth quarter. He came on in the second half after senior starter John Hunter suffered a mild concussion. Hunter had a 1-yard TD plunge before being sent to the sidelines for good midway through the third quarter.
Defensively, the Rams (2-1) were equally impressive, bottling up a Northridge offense that was missing its best playmaker, senior running back Dayan Lake, who sat out Thursday’s game with an Achilles injury.
“I felt really good about our guys up front,” Highland coach Brody Benson said. “James (Pembroke) did a great job coming in. I don’t think we looked like we skipped a beat. And that’s what we preach — next man in — so I feel real good about that. He showed some composure and some maturity.
“I thought we handled the line of scrimmage. I thought our defense shut ‘em down. I think they had 52 total yards at halftime. John Jensen, our D-coordinator, does a great job getting these kids ready each week."
After Thomas Pembroke’s 10-yard TD and the first of four PAT kicks by Kasra Rahmati made it 7-0 with just 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Highland stretched its lead to 14-0 moments later when Boren blocked a Northridge punt deep in Knights’ territory and teammate Andrew Parkin scooped up the loose ball and gleefully carried it into the end zone for a touchdown.
"That play was huge," Benson said. "We've been talking to Jake Boren for the past two weeks that he's gonna get one off the edge, and I'm excited for him. He had a great game, and he's just a young kid, too. He's just a sophomore."
It was a tough night for the Knights (1-2), whose only score came on Ben Jackson’s 1-yard dive midway through the second quarter — the PAT kick was wide — that temporarily trimmed the deficit to 14-6.
Highland took the second-half kickoff and marched 70 yards for its third score, using the rushing bursts of both Pembroke boys, Hunter, Boren and Logan Urie to move within inches of the goal line before Hunter took it in from there to make it 21-6.
The Rams' defense continued to frustrate the Northridge offense, and James Pembroke broke loose over the middle midway through the fourth quarter on a 38-yard TD run that increased Highland's margin to 28-6.
On its next possession, Northridge briefly showed some life when Jackson threw an apparent 70-yard TD bomb to Dante Joseph, only to have the score negated by a holding penalty, and Highland's defense did the rest.
“More than anything," Benson said, "I thought our kids came together and we played together as a team. Right there at the start of the second half, we could've panicked (when Hunter got knocked out of the game). I thought we showed some composure and I'm just excited right now. I'm excited for our boys; I'm excited for our coaches, and hopefully we're turning the corner.
"I feel good about the guys that we have, and everybody's just out there fighting and playing for one another. Now it's on to region.”
And with it, there are plenty more chunks of yardage to gobble up on the ground for the Rams' hard-running, triple-option offense.