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Before the season, Highland coach Brock Farrel talked about the importance of senior running back Max Davis to his team’s success.

He joked that if Davis didn’t get at least 20 touches per game, “I didn’t do something right.”

Despite failing to get Davis 20 touches in Week 2 against Desert Vista, Farrel and the Hawks have done everything else right during a 4-0 start that has them well-positioned to make a run at an Open Division playoff spot.

Since that Week 2 victory, Davis has had about as impressive of a two-game stretch as anyone this season. In wins over Sandra Day O’Connor and Perry, Davis has rushed for a combined 534 yards and nine touchdowns, and he caught a touchdown pass in the Hawks’ 42-9 victory over the Pumas to open Region 2 play.

“That’s like video game stuff,” Farrel said. “It’s been fun to watch.”

Farrel knew he’d have to rely heavily on his run game with several first-year receivers expected to experience growing pains — Davis, in fact, is tied for second on the team with seven receptions, behind senior Logan Kingsford’s 10. 

He hoped Davis would be ready to take on a bigger role after earning all-region honorable mention as a junior, and the 5-foot-11, 195-pound workhorse has delivered.

“He just comes to play every week,” Farrel said. “In a world of teenagers, you’re not always sure you’re going to get that, but he’s been consistent. He’s shown up every week and taken on that leadership role.”

Junior quarterback Gage Dayley has been solid but not spectacular, completing 61.4 percent of his passes (35 of 57) for 584 yards and four touchdowns without being intercepted.

“He’s making great decisions and taking care of the football,” Farrel said.

On the other side of the ball, the Hawks’ first-team defense has allowed 14 points through four games. As Farrel expected, an experienced linebacking corps anchored by senior Kam Cullimore (18 tackles in the first three games) has led the way, and senior Cooper Brown (13 tackles, five for loss) has made his presence felt after missing last season with a torn ACL.

“It’s not a secret with us. We’re going to run the ball really well and play great defense,” Farrel said. “When you only allow three points per game and your running back has 10 touchdowns in two games, you’re going to win a few games.”

That winning formula will face a huge test as the Hawks enter a critical three-game stretch that likely will determine their postseason fate — home games against Queen Creek and SBLive No. 24 Hamilton, followed by a road date at No. 3 Chandler.

“I think we’ll be ready,” Farrel said. “It’s not like we think we’re going to take it to them. They’re all excellent teams. But we don’t back down from anybody. Our kids are embracing the challenge. They’re excited for the opportunity.”

— René Ferrán; Kam Cullimore photo by Donna Mundy Photography

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