Prep football: East trumps Highland, 34-13
It was sudden and effective, sort of like a heavyweight who lands a big punch early.
Only this time, it was East tailback Ula Tulutau supplying the blow. On the third play of Friday's 4A Region 6 tussle at Highland, Tulutau burst through a gaping hole between the tackles and rumbled 53 yards untouched for a touchdown.
The blow staggered the Rams for what looked like the entire first half as the undefeated Leopards raced out to a big lead and an eventual 34-13 victory.
East High was also playing for its head coach Brandon Matich, suspended a game for using an ineligible player earlier this season.
"We were very sad we lost the big guy," East quarterback Issac Valles. "It also pumped us up, and we were ready to play."
That was obvious, as the Leopards (8-0, 5-0) gained more than 200 yards of offense in the first half and more than 350 for the game behind their hulking line.
Tulutau rushed for 113 yards, but Valles ran for 139 yards, often tacking on more yardage after the initial hit.
"It was a huge game-changer," said Valles of Tulutau's burst for 6 yards. "Oh my gosh, we have the best line in the state, no doubt. Wherever they go, we go."
East was also a bit lucky, taking a 14-0 lead on a heave of a pass from 36 yards out that was batted around by a couple of players on both teams before Preston Curtis plucked it out of the air to give the Leopards a 14-0 advantage in the first quarter.
"It kind of stunned us," Highland coach Brody Benson said of Tulutau's opening score. "We kind of pushed the panic button. In the second half, we were settled down and executing. At least we settled ourselves down."
The second half was a much different story for Highland (5-4, 3-2). But miscommunication between Ram quarterback Austin Peterson and his receivers was never really solved.
Peterson, the engine behind Highland's offense, finished the night completing just 3-of-12 passes with two interceptions.
"We just weren't dialed in," Peterson said. "We had a great week of practice. I don't understand why we weren't dialed in."
Highland managed only 91 rushing yards in the first half, 75 of those coming on Adam Webber's 75-yard touchdown sprint around the right end.