HIGHLAND — The Highland Bulldogs dominated the first half, but found itself in a fight to the finish before pulling out a 34-20 victory over Carbondale on Saturday in a Class 5A first-round playoff game.
Sophomore Andrew Winning ran the 24 times for 157 yards and a touchdown for Highland (10-0). Teammate Gage Geiger ran 16 times for 90 yards and a touchdown and Bulldogs' quarterback Mack Waldman threw for 147 yards and a score.
With the victory, Highland advances into a second-round home game next weekend against Bartonville-Limestone. Bartonville-Limestone (9-1) defeated Jerseyville 47-27 in its postseason opener.
The Bulldogs controlled the first half, moving the ball at will against Carbondale's defense and taking advantage of several Carbondale penalties.
A 3-yard touchdown run by Winning staked Highland to a 7-0 just inside the midway point of the first quarter.
"We had them on third-and-longs a couple of times in the first half and couldn't get off the field," said Carbondale coach Nick Hill. "That's a good team. They're very well-coached, they're all seniors, and they've been down this block before."
In the second quarter, Waldman connected with Logan Kharibian on a 12-yard touchdown pass, Gage Geiger scored on a 29-yard run and Zeke Kaufman made a pair of 39-yard field goals, the last one coming right before halftime, as Highland pushed its lead to 27-0.
But Carbondale would not give up, as its defense held the Bulldogs' high-powered offense in check for most of the second half.
The Terriers also came alive on offense behind the arm of senior quarterback Justin Hoffmann, who threw for 229 yards and two TD passes, one to Devontavius Payne and the other to Shamarc Bursey.
A 3-yard touchdown run by Hoffmann with 7:46 remaining cut Highland's lead to 27-20.
"I'm proud of our effort," Hill said. "Everyone counted them out, 27-0, and that they would take it in but they didn't quit and they fought."
Highland didn't put the game away until late in the fourth quarter following a big conversion run by Winning on a fourth-and-1. Waldman then ran it in from 3 yards out for the game's final score with 1:27 left.
"I give a lot of credit to Carbondale. They came out in the second half and made a push," said Highland coach Jim Warnecke. "Ultimately, we took care of the job that needed to be done."
Payne caught seven passes for 127 yards and Bursey caught six passes for 76 yards for the Terriers. Mitch Lauder ran three times for 60 yards and Hoffmann ran 11 times for 43 yards.