SPRINGFIELD — During what had been a dream season for the Highland High School football team, the Bulldogs have settled in behind a big, athletic offensive line and run to daylight.
Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A playoffs, the Highland offense met it's match.
Top-seeded Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin held the Bulldogs to 2.2 yards per rushing attempt and ended Highland's season 42-8 at the SHG athletic complex.
The state's highest-scoring team was held to two touchdowns below its season average, but the defensive unit made that immaterial. SH-G, 12-0, plays host to unbeaten Washington in the semifinals next Saturday.
"We know the offense gets a lot of the glory," SH-G linebacker Chris Overton said. "But as long as we play our game, we're happy."
The defense dictated terms against a Highland team intent on grinding it out. The Bulldogs (11-1) had just 41 rushing yards in the first half and finished with 56 yards on 26 carries.
"Our defensive line stepped up," said SH-G linebacker Chris Smith. "They were big; they shut 'em down."
Highland rushed for 10 yards on its first play from scrimmage and never had more than 8 yards on any run the rest of the day.
"They took away our run," Highland coach Jim Warnecke said. "To win the game, we had to run it. We didn't do that. Tip your hat to them.
"I take full blame for that. The game plan was sound. But I underestimated our ability to do that. That's no slam on us. That football team took it away."
Meanwhile the Cyclones' offense was up to its usual form. After giving up the ball away on downs on its first series after the opening kickoff, SH-G scored on its next six possessions.
Green's 22-yard TD run capped a four-play, 75-yard scoring drive on SH-G's second possession, and after Cole Hilestad recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Green passed 16 yards to Malik Turner to make it 14-0.
Anthony DiNello capped a five-play, 59-yard scoring drive with a 26-yard TD in the second period, then Green and Turner hooked up on a 10-yard scoring play. Sam Sergent (80 yards on eight carries) scored from 7 yards out, and DiNello's second TD with 19 seconds left in the first half made it 42-0 and meant the second half would be played with a running clock.
The Cyclones finished with 359 yards of total offense, outstanding when you consider they had the ball for just 11 plays in the second half and three of those plays were kneel-downs.
But this one was about the defense.
"A lot of heart," Smith said when asked the key to the defense's success. "Obviously it's a big help when the offense gives us that big buffer. There's not as much pressure."
The only Highland score came with 1:22 left in the game when Mack Waldman passed 35 yards to Logan Geiger for a touchdown. Waldman passed to Logan Kharibian for the two-point conversion.
Coach Ken Leonard keeps coming away impressed.
"Our defense . . . that's three weeks in a row," he said, alluding to the fact the Cyclones have given up just one score in each of their three postseason games.
"We've got a bunch of really good kids and a bunch of kids who have sold out on what we tell them. Now they are students of the game."