Highland already led Waterloo 24-10, but Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke knew that senior quarterback Garrett Marti could exploit the opposing defense more in the second half with the run-pass option.
Highland, which rolled up 637 yards in total offense for the game, scored touchdowns on its first two plays of the second half — with Marti playing the leading role — en route to piling up an eye-popping 37 points in the third quarter to power away for a 68-24 rout.
“I felt Garrett did a pretty good job tonight in our two-back sets and calling RPOs (run-pass option), where he has the option to run or pass the ball,” Warnecke said. “He hit the plays that needed to be hit. (Waterloo) gave us some favorable matchups with our receivers and we took advantage of that with Sam (LaPorta) and Jacob Willis a couple of times.”
Highland kept its unblemished season rolling along at 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Mississippi Valley Conference, while Waterloo slipped to 3-4 and 2-2.
Stars for Highland
Marti and LaPorta, a junior wideout, hooked up for three touchdown passes, two in the third quarter. Marti also galloped for a 74-yard score in the third.
Marti completed 15 of 19 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. For the season, he has 22 TD passes and only one interception.
LaPorta finished with nine catches for 199 yards, highlighted by the three TD receptions. LaPorta has compiled 12 TD receptions.
Senior Josh Burke rumbled for a pair of TDs, one in the third, and senior Isaiah Harmon also had a third-quarter TD scamper.
Junior Brady Feldmann (10 rushes for 120 yards) and sophomore backup quarterback Connor Sands each had a TD run while senior place kicker Elliott Prott made a 48-yard field goal and converted all nine of his point-after attempts.
In addition, Burke led the defense with nine solo tackles while senior Kyle Lane added eight solos, junior Drew Hulvey had seven solos and a fumble recovery, and Harmon had four solos and a quarterback sack for a safety.
“It was senior night and those seniors stepped up and the rest of the guys knew who they were playing for — the seniors,” Warnecke said. “I am very proud of the seniors on senior night to lead this group and everybody else who wanted to play for the seniors.”
Warnecke said no one was any more important than senior right guard Dylan Knebel.
“It has been a long time since I have seen a lineman dominate like Dylan Knebel did. He had one hell of a football game tonight.”
Prior to the game, it was announced that Highland senior linebacker Kyle Lane had already broken the school record for career solo tackles with 259. Lane’s eight solo tackles against Waterloo raised his school-record total to 267.
“It’s always been a goal of mine, I just wanted to leave my family name here and represent my family in a good way,” Lane said. “And just to break the record is honestly breathtaking, it’s just amazing. But records are meant to be broken so I am just glad I could set a record here and hopefully in the near future someone can break it.”
Lane said the most important thing for me is being a good leader and helping my team get the victory because the team’s ultimate goal is to make it to the state championship game.
“That’s all I care about right now, it’s a dream season. If everyone stays healthy, we’re going to do big things,” he said.
Lane’s older brother, Keith Lane, also starred for the Highland Bulldogs and went on to become an All-American left tackle at Illinois College.
Third quarter explosion
After forcing Waterloo to go three-and-out on the opening possession of the third quarter, Marti wasted no time exploiting the opposing defense on the first play from scrimmage. He faked a handoff to junior Brady Feldmann and then cut it up field and outran the entire Waterloo defense to take it to the house from 74 yards away.
Then the ensuing kickoff hit a Waterloo player near midfield and Hulvey fell on it. The very next play, Marti zipped a pass over the middle to junior Sam LaPorta and he broke a tackle and galloped the rest of the way to complete the 54-yard catch-and-run and widen the lead to 38-10 just 1:55 into the second half.
After another quick three-and-out by Waterloo, Highland needed just five plays to march 62 yards, capped off by a 15-yard touchdown trot by senior Isaiah Harmon to make it 45-10 with still 5:40 left in the quarter.
A 73-yard touchdown run by Waterloo’s Warren Wayland only momentarily paused Highland’s momentum.
Highland responded with 16 points in the final 5 1/2 minutes on a 9-yard TD toss from Marti to Laporta, a safety by the defense on a sack from Harmon, then a 40-yard rumble by senior Josh Burke.
First half scoring
Much earlier in the game, Burke smashed in from the 3-yard line to give Highland the lead for good at 7-3 with 6:43 to play in the first quarter.
After senior Seby Wolf blocked a Waterloo field goal, Feldmann zigged and zagged his way for a 42-yard touchdown scamper.
Then after the defense forced a punt, Highland traveled 50 yards in six plays, with LaPorta leaping high in the air to haul in a 4-yard TD pass from Marti to go on top 21-3 just 1:37 into the second quarter.
Waterloo then had its best drive of the game, going 80 yards to score on an 8-yard TD pass from junior quarterback Graham Baker to senior tight end Jackson Ivers with 2:44 left in the first half.
Highland got close enough for Prott, who booted a 48-yard field goal that just cleared the crossbar with 11.4 ticks remaining.’
Highland travels to Mascoutah where it will look to wrap up repeating as MVC champions.
“This was big because we remained undefeated at home and give ourselves the opportunity for a conference championship next Friday.”