The Marion Wildcats ran right with visiting Highland for a half, but the Bulldogs showed why they are the third-ranked Class 5A team in the state as they pulled away in the second half for a 45-27 victory.
Highland piled up 433 yards in total offense, forced five turnovers and outscored Marion 24-6 in the second half to remain perfect at 3-0 on the season and spoil the Wildcats’ home opener.
Marion (1-2) racked up over 400 yards in total yards in their own right and the Wildcats were tied at 21-21 with the Bulldogs after one half of play. But the handful of turnovers and the Bulldogs’ duel attack through the air and on the ground proved to be too lethal for the Wildcats’ defense to be able to contain.
Highland senior quarterback Garrett Marti completed 16 of 26 passes for 233 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Marti stayed perfect on the year with 11 TD passes and no intterceptions and overall in the three games, he has been on target with 53 of 80 attempts for 913 yards.
Junior standout wideout Sam LaPorta caught nine of Marti’s pass attempts for 172 yards and one touchdown. LaPorta’s totals for the season are 22 receptions for 432 yards and five TDs.
Junior running back Brady Feldmann led the rushing attack against the Wildcats with 14 carries for 95 yards and two touchdown trots.
Defensively against Marion, senior linebacker Kyle Lane and senior lineman Josh Burke led the tackling brigade after eaching chalked up nine solo tackles to go with two tackle assists. LaPorta was right behind with eight solos, three tackle assists while he also contributed an interception and a fumble recovery.
In addition, junior strong safety Jack Etter added two interceptions to go with four solos and one tackle assist and junior defensive end Drew Hulvey had seven solos, one fumble recovery and one tackle assist.
The Wildcats had their first three possessions end in an interception, a punt and a fumble as they fell behind 14-0.
Etter intercepted Marion quarterback David Fletcher on the game’s first possession which led to Marti cashing in for a 2-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game.
After trading punts, Highland senior defensive back Dylan Shaw forced a fumble, LaPorta scooped up the loose ball, and Feldmann turned it into a 1-yard TD run to put the Bulldogs on top 14-0 with 3:57 left in the first quarter.
Marion’s offense came right back with a 50-yard TD pass from David Fletcher to Jaden Lacy over the middle to cut HHS’ lead in half at 14-7.
Then after turning Highland over on downs with less than 12 seconds left in the first quarter, the Wildcats marched for eight minutes to tie the game. The drive included a fourth down conversion run and was capped off by Fletcher again hooking up with Lacy, this time for a 15-yard TD reception with 5:13 to play in the first half.
LaPorta nearly had a quick touchdown but Marion’s Dylan Kinell made a score-saving tackle. LaPorta added a first-down catch at the 9-yard line and then caught another Marti pass to Highland back in front at 21-14.
After both teams punted on their ensuing possessions, Fletcher and Lacy hooked up for a third time, this time for 34 yards down the right sideline with 16.6 ticks remaining to send the score deadlocked at 21-21 into halftime.
Marti found Etter for a 13-yard score at the 5:56 mark of the third quarter to put Highland on top, 28-21, for good.
Two possessions later, the Bulldogs pinned the Wildcats at their own goal line and Etter intercepted Fletcher for a pick-6 touchdown and Highland went up by two scores at 35-21.
Marion’s fifth turnover came soon after as on the ensuing kickoff, the ball hit a Wildcat player and Hulvey recovered it.
The Bulldogs could not cash in on it. However, a punt of just five yards on Marion’s next possession led to senior Elliott Prott’s 33-yard field goal and Highland increased its lead to three scores at 38-21 with 10:03 to go in the game. also made all six of his extra-point attempts.
Marion had an in impressive ensuing possession, marching 80 yards from its own 20 to put it in the end zone on a 28-yard TD toss from Fletcher to Noah Mofield in the right corner of the end zone. The conversion failed and the Bulldogs’ lead was 38-27 with 6:01 to play.
The onside kick didn’t work and a heavy diet of Feldmann followed. He capped three straight big runs with a 7-yard touchdown trot to slam the door shut on the Wildcats’ hopes with 4:54 left.
Fletcher finished the night going 15-for-28 for 229 yards and four touchdowns, although the three interceptions certainly hurt his team’s chances. Lacy had six catches for 166 yards and three of those scores. Caden Hilliard ran the ball 23 times for 142 yards
This Friday night, Highland will play host to the Jerseyville Panthers in both teams’ Mississippi Valley Conference opener. The Bulldogs will wear gold socks to spread awareness of Childhood Cancer.