REXBURG — When Madison was desperate for a big play, Highland got one instead, and it was the final exclamation point in a runaway win.
Dylan Jester’s 92-yard interception return touchdown late in the fourth quarter sealed the Rams’ 31-13 win Friday at Madison in the first round of the 5A state playoffs. The Rams (7-3) advance to next week’s quarterfinals, where they’ll play Borah in Boise.
“We worked hard this whole week,” Jester, a senior linebacker, said. “I’m proud of every individual player, even on the sideline. Everybody had energy.”
Madison, down 24-13 in the fourth, drove to Highland’s 24-yard line with under two minutes to play.
But on fourth down, Jester was waiting at the 8, where he snared Easton Cordero’s pass and raced down Highland’s raucous sideline, all the way to the end zone.
It was an emphatic way to cap a redemption win for the Rams, who lost to Madison two weeks ago — Highland’s first loss to the Bobcats since 2012.
It also snapped Highland’s two-game losing streak, which clouded the playoff prospects of the perennial state title contender.
“We were focused today,” Rams offensive lineman Hipa Galo said. “Last time we went against them, we weren’t focused at all. But this game, we were focused, quiet, and just focused on one thing: to beat Madison.”
Highland never led during its losing skid, but never trailed Friday, allowing the offense to operate comfortably.
Quarterback Easton Durham relied on short passes and his athleticism to keep Madison honest. But the night belonged to running back Kaleb Demuzio, who rumbled for 230 yards and two touchdowns — a needed bounce-back performance for Highland’s offensive star, who was held under 90 yards rushing in each of the Rams’ recent losses.
His 52-yard touchdown run put Highland ahead 14-7 early in the third quarter, and his next touch went 69 yards to the house, answering a Madison touchdown and giving the Rams a 21-13 cushion.
The junior accumulated 174 of his yards after halftime. He set Highland’s single-game rushing record earlier this season and cleared the 1,000-yard threshold on Friday.
“He just broke loose and gave us hope again,” offensive lineman Blake Williamson said. “He reads holes super well, he hits them as hard as he can, he just goes full speed.”
Demuzio’s quick strikes pumped fuel into the Rams’ offense, but meant Highland’s defense hardly had time to rest. Madison ran 41 plays in the second half, compared to 15 for Highland.
It didn’t matter too much. Before Jester’s pick, the Rams got a second-quarter turnover on downs, blocked a third-quarter point-after attempt and tallied another fourth-down stop with 7:55 to go in the fourth.
Highland effectively eliminated Madison’s rushing attack, forcing Cordero to throw. The dual-threat senior obliged, completing 21 of 39 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. His late interception was one of few blemishes on his stat line, which included a team-best 57 yards rushing.
“It changes the game, for sure. You get back in coverage and he can score a touchdown, one play,” Jester said. “He’s a good player, good athlete. We were definitely keying on him.”
Durham threw two first-half interceptions, including one at Madison’s 21-yard line. The Bobcats capitalized on the second when Cordero found Trey Holloway for a 22-yard TD to tie the game 7-7 with 1:52 until halftime. Holloway was one of three Madison receivers with over 70 yards. Dawson Wills led the Bobcats with nine catches and 107 yards.
Durham ran in Highland’s first score of the game, a 25-yard scramble in the second quarter. He finished with 33 yards rushing and completed 11 of 17 passes for 56 yards.
Highland plays at Borah, the District 3 runner-up, next week in the state quarterfinals.
Madison’s season is over.
HIGHLAND 31, MADISON 14
Highland 0 7 14 10 — 31
Madison 0 7 6 0 — 13
H — Durham 25 run (Hershey kick), 9:56
M — Holloway 22 pass from Cordero (Williams kick), 1:52
H — Demuzio 52 run (Hershey kick), 8:13
M — Williams 22 pass from Cordero (kick blocked), 6:01
H — Demuzio 69 run (Hershey kick), 5:41
H — Hershey 35 field goal, 11:55
H — Jester 92 interception return (Hershey kick), 1:36
Passing — Highland: Durham 11-17-56-0-2. Madison: Cordero 21-39-309-2-1.
Rushing — Highland: Demuzio 18-230-2, Durham 5-33-1, M. Fullmer 3-6. Madison: Cordero 18-57, Winfree 9-9.
Receiving — Highland: Potter 5-29, Demuzio 4-24, Huelsman 1-5, Duffin 1-(-2). Madison: Wills 9-107, Holloway 4-89-1, Williams 4-70-1, Lundin 3-46, Winfree 1-(-3).
HS FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Highland-Madison