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Granada Hills football runs through Taft

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WOODLAND HILLS — Prior to Friday night’s game, Granada Hills’ Darrell Stanley prepared like an ordinary quarterback.

A running back by trade, he did his best impersonation of a gunslinger. He took snaps on the sideline from center Bryce Gamble, dropped back three steps, and torqued his right side, yet his warm-up lacked one key aspect of most quarterbacks: He never released the ball.

Not that he needed to practice doing so.

Catch enough Granada Hills (5-2-1) football and, while it grows redundant — watching run after run — understand that, with coach Rich Brooks at the helm, this is the norm.

On Friday, they rode their ground game to a 64-22 win over Taft (2-6).

“This was the best we’ve looked offensively,” Brooks said.

Seven different ball-carriers accumulated 10-plus yards; Stanley leading the way with four carries for 147 yards and three touchdowns.

To the untrained eye, the Highlanders offense may look simple, but if that were the case then Taft would have had more success containing it. One would have to assume the Toreadors knew, the ball would be pounded up the middle on each play.

That’s the thing about the Highlanders’ run-heavy attack, it’s far from trivial.

Earlier this season, little nuances would trip up Stanley, Kanye Martin and others. Take their 45-8 loss to Village Christian in week two for example. One in which Stanley and Martin combined for just 14 yards on 12 carries.

“Sometimes it just takes a while for your team to figure themselves out,” Brooks said. “We’re going to run powers, we’re going to run counters. The timing worked today between the running backs and the line.”

That was evident as each of Stanley’s three touchdowns had its own twist to help the speedster break free.

“I really had to be patient,” he said. “I had to trust (the offensive line) and let them create the holes. As soon as I’d see the guard pull across my face, I knew the hole would be there.”

His first was a 63-yard scamper on the second play from scrimmage. The second, an 18-yard run up the middle. And the third, a 57-yard breakaway sprint that pushed the margin to four possessions, 44-16 just before halftime.

With the Highlanders attack, defenses are caught off guard by Stanley’s speed, tired out by Martin’s physicality and, on Friday, unprepared for Jesse Hughes’ “home run ability,” as Brooks puts it.

“Jesse is big,” Stanley said. “We really just been hiding him and getting him used to running in this offense.”

The Highlanders deployed Hughes on a slew of zone reads to the left side of the formation as he rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown. He’s another wrinkle in the mix. Stanley and Martin lead the way — a 1-2 punch of quickness and strength — and they’re complemented by Hughes, Pharrell Stanley, and Nasir Eniblolobo.

At times, a downside of their success can be that there aren’t enough plays to get each into a rhythm, on a given night.

That’s why Brooks shuffles between featuring certain players. And that’s the scary thing about this somewhat younger group: That method has helped each back hit their stride when Brooks hoped they would — just in time to defend their Division I City Section championship.

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