Highland spreading the wealth on offense with strong results

News-DemocratSeptember 9, 2013 

Ten missed tackles on defense and more than a few penalties caught the trained eye of Highland football coach Jimmy Warnecke and his coaching staff.

But Friday's 52-28 win over Mount Zion still moved the Bulldogs to 2-0 and Warnecke couldn't be happier about the quick start.

"There's definitely some things we can improve upon," said Warnecke, whose senior starters helped pave the way for the recent turnaround as sophomores on the 0-9 squad in 2011. "This group of kids is hungrier than any other group I've ever been around, so I don't see them letting up on the gas one bit. I think last year (going from 4-0 to finishing 5-5) was a hard lesson, but sometimes those are the best lessons."

Highland's balanced spread offense has been tough to crack for opponents this season.

The Bulldogs shredded Mount Zion for 621 yards of offense, rolling up 396 yards rushing on 54 carries led by Gage Geiger (135 yards, three touchdowns) and senior quarterback Mack Waldman (63 yards).

Thanks to an offensive line featuring Nebraska recruit Tanner Farmer (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) and Army recruit Nick Czar (6-4, 240), the Bulldogs should be able to move the ball against most teams.

"With the line I've got in front of me, I'd probably get run out of town if I didn't (run it)," Warnecke said. "I feel like we're a team this year that could really air it out and spread it out, but for the sake of consistency and controlling the tempo of the game ... I go with what I've got to work with."

And if teams underestimate Highland's passing attack with Mater Dei transfer Waldman in charge, that might be a mistake.

Waldman completed all five of his passes in a 44-0 season-opening win over Du Quoin, with four going for touchdowns. He threw for 244 yards.

Through two games, Waldman has completed 74 percent of his passes (20-of-27) for 469 yards and five TDs with one interception.

"We've got a goal this year of 68 percent and I think he hit that right on the number on Friday," Warnecke said. "He's done a great job preparing for this season. He watches more film than any quarterback I've ever been around."

But don't think running a spread offense means throwing the ball all over the field.

Through two games, Highland running back Andrew Winning (217 yards, two TDs) is averaging 12.6 yards per carry while Geiger (198 yards) averages 7.6.

"You talk about balance and that's the key to everything," Warnecke said. "If you don't have that, you're going to run into something sooner or later that can stop you."

Another playmaker is slot receiver Logan Geiger (four catches, 151 yards, three TDs; 67 yards rushing).

"He actually was in contention for our starting quarterback spot against Mack and without a doubt will be our starter at quarterback next year," Warnecke said. "We move him all around."

Highland's high-powered offense drew praise from some much larger schools this summer. The Bulldogs' only two losses at the Carbondale 7-on-7 tournament came against East St. Louis and they also went up against Edwardsville and Belleville West.

"I think going up against big teams like that was very helpful," said Warnecke, whose team will play Apollo Conference heavyweight Mattoon on Friday before moving into the Mississippi Valley Conference schedule against rival Jerseyville (2-0).

"We've put up some big points here, but there's a lot better football teams out there for us yet and we're very aware of that," Warnecke said. "I think we'll find out a lot more about ourselves in these next two weeks."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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