Another opponent, another prey for the Highland football Bulldogs to feast upon.
Mattoon was the latest victim as the Bulldogs chewed up the visiting Green Wave 45-6 Friday night at HHS.
Through three games, Highland’s offense is putting up prep basketball-like numbers while the Bulldogs’ defense is holding their opponents to scores more akin to baseball.
Highland (3-0) has now outscored its three opponents by the combined total of 138 to 20, which is an average game score of 45.67 to 6.67.
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In the first half against Mattoon (0-3), the Bulldogs’ offense had already piled up more than 350 yards while the defense shut the Green Wave out in a 31-0 laugher by the break.
Then after Highland’s defense forced the Green Wave to turn the ball over downs at their own 48-yard line on the first possession of the second half, HHS senior Andrew Winning scored on the first ensuing play. Winning darted through the line of scrimmage and cut it to the near sideline and galloped the 48 yards to paydirt for his fourth touchdown of the game and 13th of the season.
His long scamper made it 38-0 and any additional Highland score without Mattoon scoring first would make the game a continuously running clock while it also put Highland over the 400-yard mark on offense for the game.
Senior linebacker Seth Levad thwarted the Green Wave’s ensuing drive with an interception at his own 15-yard line. Levad then raced down the near sideline for an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown to make it 45-0 and start the running clock with still 6:58 left in the third quarter. It was Levad’s second interception return for a TD in as many weeks after last week pulling off a 55-yard pick 6 in the 48-6 romp at Salem.
Highland’s starters were pulled late in the third quarter and the reserves played the entire fourth quarter.
“The key to victory tonight were pound the rock, eliminate their run and get some turnovers, and I think we accomplished all three of them,” Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said. “Overall, I was happy with the effort, happy with the discipline and the focus tonight. We won another game with no turnovers. Our goal was 400 yards tonight and I know we at least got close to it. Usually, we don’t make goals like that. Usually, we’re all about the process and focus on the things that take us to that to that point. I thought up front offensively was excellent and I thought our tailbacks ran hard and were physical.”
Highland’s offensive line of right tackle Austin Bush, right guard Brayden Menke, center Sam Ahlmeyer, left guard Chris Beard and left tackle Wade Clarkin, bulldozed Mattoon as the Bulldogs had success both on the ground and through the air while piling up 420 of offense.
Winning finished the game with 12 rushes for 145 yards and four touchdown runs of 2, 51, 1 and 48 yards. Winning also chipped 25 yards receiving.
Junior running back Trent Rakers had 82 yards and a 1-yard TD run on six carries.
Sophomore quarterback Garrett Marti had his best game of the season by far. Marti was a double-threat in effectively and efficiently guiding the offense with no turnovers. He ran for 100 yards on four rushes while he also completed 7 of 10 passes for 80 yards.
“I think Garrett will be the first person to tell you that he wasn’t happy with week 1 and week 2, but he did a great job tonight,” Warnecke said. “He was excellent with his reads, managing the tempo of the offense and keeping us going upbeat. With all of the stuff we put on his shoulders mentally with this offense as a sophomore, I am very proud of him to respond and have a great game tonight. We have confidence in him and he’s our man, and he’s going to continue to get better.”
Additionally, senior Jimmie Smith caught two passes for 20 yards and freshman Sam LaPorta had one reception for 13 yards and one rush for 10 yards, while senior kicker Zeke Kaufman made all six of his extra points and booted a 27-yard field goal.
Not to be outdone, Highland’s defense also shined brightly on this night. The starters pitched a shutout. Mattoon’s only score came against reserves with 1:28 to play as Green Wave senior quarterback Braden Smith plunged in from the 2-yard line on fourth down.
“The defense came to play again,” Warnecke said. “This is two games at home now and they’re defending that end zone. They’re exciting to watch. Our secondary is closing on balls and it was another good tackling night for our defense.”
Leading the tackling brigade for the Bulldogs were senior linebacker Zeke Kaufman and sophomore cornerback Dylan Shaw with five solo tackles apiece. Senior cornerback Colton VonderHaar added four solo tackles and Rakers, senior defensive end Justin Haase and sophomore linebacker Kyle Lane each had three solo tackles.
In addition, sophomore defensive end Josh Burke had two solo tackles and one quarterback sack.
Warnecke said he really wanted to single out Levad because the senior linebacker is playing excellent football after his second pick 6 in as many weeks helped the Bulldogs be plus-6 in the turnover ratio through three games.
“Seth is a guy that wanted to be on the field more last year, but paid his dues,” Warnecke said. “Now he is a senior and I think he is the best at outside linebacker that I have seen in a long time with what he is doing for us. Seth is a tremendous combination of speed, intelligence and strength.”
Next Friday night, Highland opens Mississippi Valley Conference play with what should be an easy road game at Mascoutah (0-3).