Highlands prepared to slow down No. 2 Mars’ rushing attack

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Thursday, September 17, 2020 | 5:46 PM


Members of the Highlands football team have quite a test in front of them Friday when the Mars Fightin’ Planets come to town.

The No. 2 Fightin’ Planets (1-0, 1-0) beat Hampton, 35-13, last week as senior running back Teddy Ruffner surpassed 3,000 rushing yards for his career with 261 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries.

The Golden Rams (1-0, 1-0) had just as a successful first week with a 39-7 win over Knoch as sophomore quarterback Chandler Thimons completed 13 of his 21 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns. Although they started the season off on a high-note, Highlands coach Dom Girardi is still looking for his team to improve in several ways.

“I was happy for the kids to go up and get a win, especially with how hard they have been working amidst all the uncertainty,” Girardi said. “But there are definitely things that we have addressed that we need to do better, and we’ve been focusing on those things this week because we have a really good Mars team coming in here.”

Mars holds an all-time record of 6-2 against the Golden Rams and won the last matchup 21-10 in 2017. But as the two teams prepare for another meeting, Mars coach Scott Heinauer and the Fightin’ Planets know the Golden Rams aren’t a team that they can overlook.

“They are going to bring everything at us; that’s how they play,” Heinauer said. “Their kids are very active, they bring a lot of people and they play an up-tempo style of offense. They are wide open and like to throw the football a lot more than Hampton. So that’s what we have to get prepared for.”

While Mars will prepare for the successful passing game Highlands has implemented during the past year with Thimons, the Golden Rams will have to prepare for the difficult task of stopping Ruffner and Mars’ rushing attack. As a junior last season, Ruffner eclipsed the 100-yard mark in nine of Mars’ 11 games. He also ran for more than 300 yards twice and scored five touchdowns in three games.

Mars’ run-heavy offense is familiar for the Golden Rams, who are prepared for the challenge of slowing down Ruffner and the running game.

“Every time we face a big time runner, our defense is known for stopping the run, so what are we going to do? Shut him down, that’s what we’re looking for,” lineman Jeremiah Nelson said. “So any schemes were looking for, we’re looking to shut him down because we know he’s the best.”

Just like in any run-heavy offense though, defenses still need to prepare for the pass. Mars junior Quinn Fuller only threw for 46 yards last week against Hampton, but also threw for 515 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore a year ago. So, while it may not be Mars’ prime focus, they are surely capable of stretching the field.

“When they throw it, they can really hurt you because you are so sucked up on the run,” Girardi said. “They have a real tall tight end and the quarterback looks more than capable of getting the ball to him, and their passing game really complements their running game, so we have to constantly be vigilant about them passing.”

The two teams will kick off at 7 p.m. Friday at Golden Rams Stadium.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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