Belleville East had the offense to be able to hang with state-ranked Highland for a half.
But Highland’s offense was just too explosive for the Lancers to be able to contain as the Bulldogs ran away for a basketball-type final score in a 63-33 home victory.
The Lancers were tied 14-14 after countering Highland’s back-to-back touchdowns in the first quarter with two in a row in the second.
It was still a game at halftime with Highland ahead 28-20.
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But the Bulldogs’ defense made a momentum-gaining play on the first play of the second half. Senior linebacker Josh Burke stripped the ball and freshman defensive lineman Sam Buck pounced on it at East’s 40-yard line.
A short time later, Highland senior quarterback Garrett Marti launched a 38-yard bomb to leaping junior wideout Sam LaPorta for a touchdown go on top by two scores en route to outscoring the Lancers 35-13 in the final two quarters of play.
Highland improved to 2-0 while East fell to 0-2.
“The second half we came out and we were rocking and rolling, and I felt like we really had them on their toes,” said Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke. “We ran the ball only twice in the second quarter so they were really spreading out for the pass. Then we were really able to take advantage of that in the running game and were really ripping off some big plays in that second half. I thought it was a big step up for our offensive line tonight.
“Our defense held (the Lancers) at the end of the second half and then got that big turnover to start the second half and we were rolling from there.”
Marti, LaPorta and junior running back Brady Feldmann put up eye-popping numbers.
Marti lit up the scoreboard like a pinball machine as he combined for 556 yards in total offense and seven total touchdowns. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 382 yards and five TD with no interceptions. He also led Highland’s rushing attack with 174 and two more scores on 10 carries, highlighted by a 66-yard scamper for the score.
LaPorta had three TD receptions from 36, 18 and 38 yards out and totaled 159 yards receiving on eight catches.
Feldmann had seven receptions for 158 yards, including a 77-yard TD. He also added 66 yards running and a score.
In addition, senior kicker Elliott Prott converted all nine point-after attempts.
Highland’s defense gave up a lot of yards and points but it forced three turnovers on the fumble recovery and two interceptions — which came from seniors Seby Wolf and Dylan Shaw.
Belleville East junior quarterback Kienen Waller and senior wide receiver DeCarlos Johnson put up big numbers in their own right. Waller went 24 for 42 for 289 yards and three touchdowns while Johnson had 10 catches for 157 yards and one touchdown.
In addition, senior running back Freddie Waller led East’s ground game with seven carries for 67 yards and one touchdown. Waller also added a TD reception.
Senior receiver Quantavius Alexander also had a 17-yard TD grab for the Lancers.
“Our offense was not near good enough and our defense was in no way good enough,” said Belleville East coach Kris Stephens. “We’re going to have to make some changes and figure out how we can do things better. We had too many turnovers tonight. You never going to win a game when you lose the turnover battle. (The Bulldogs) got a lot of talent. No. 1 (LaPorta) is a talented kid and they just kept throwing him the ball all night. We’ve got to find way to stop that sort of thing.”
Next week, Highland travels to Marion while Belleville East travels to Granite City.