Through the first minute of the second quarter, it looked as if Highland was cruising to another easy victory on the gridiron as the hometown Bulldogs roared to a 21-0 advantage over visiting Waterloo Friday night.
But then the game took a complete U-turn for the rest of the first half as Waterloo took advantage of Highland’s sloppy play to score 24 points in a span of 7 minute, 10 seconds and take a 24-21 lead at halftime, threatening to spoil HHS’ final Homecoming festivities.
Though it was far from pretty the entire game for Highland with too many penalties and turnovers, the Madison County Bulldogs did enough after the break — highlighted by its defense shutting out Waterloo and the offense scoring a clinching touchdown with 2:00 left while star Andrew Winning was sidelined with a knee injury — to pull out a 35-24 victory and remain undefeated at 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
“I think the only good thing we can take out of this game is that we dealt with some adversity,” said Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke. “At the end we bounced back, but I don’t feel like we bounced back at halftime. The things we talked about at the half that we had to avoid coming out for the second half were turnovers and penalties, which killed us in the first half, and we didn’t do that in the second half. We can’t play football like that and expect to win games against anyone. I was really disappointed in our lack of discipline tonight, things that we pride ourselves on as a team and we’ve got to get better.
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“It starts with me. I am going to be up all night long breaking down film and seeing how we can do things better because we’re not a very good team right now, and we’ve got to clean that up.”
After both teams went three-downs-and-out on offense to open the game, HHS senior cornerback Colton VonderHaar intercepted a pass, setting up his team with good field position at its own 44-yard line.
After Winning ran for 22 yards on two plays, sophomore quarterback Garrett Marti scampered 33 yards to the Waterloo 1-yard line, where Winning plunged in on the next play to put Highland on top 7-0 with 6:35 left in the first quarter.
After another quick Waterloo three-and-out, HHS traveled 63 yards in five plays, capped off by a perfect play-action 34-yard bomb from Marti to freshman Sam LaPorta to stake Highland to a 14-0 advantage with 3:35 to go in the opening period.
Waterloo had its third consecutive three-and-out, HHS junior running back Trent Rakers put the finishing touches on a nine-play, 78-yard drive as bulldozed over a Waterloo defender and darted in from 17 yards out to make it 21-0 just 58 seconds into the second stanza.
The game looked all but over but then the orange and black Bulldogs scored two long touchdown returns off Highland turnovers and got a third TD after recovering an onside kick.
The Waterloo rally started with a 66-yard drive that resulted in a 30-yard field goal from Hayden Bender with 7:43 remaining in the first half.
Just 59 seconds later, Mitchell Gladney of Waterloo stripped the ball from Winning and galloped 54 yards down the near sideline to cut the lead to 21-10.
Highland was moving the ball on the ensuing possession, but Marti rolled right and and his throw was picked off by Austin Stewart and he ran 70 yards down the far sideline to pull Waterloo to within 21-18 with still 4:32 to play before the break.
Waterloo then recovered the onside kick as Jake O’Daniell pounced on it at HHS’ 31-yard line. The Bulldogs from Monroe County cashed in again as quarterback Aaron Laskowski eventually took it in from the 1-yard line with 33.9 seconds to go in the half.
Highland responded to open the second half. On the first play, Winning sliced through the defense for a 43-yard gain and then capped off the 65-yard drive with a 1-yard TD lunge to grab his team the lead back for good at 28-24 only 2:05 into the third quarter.
An HHS penalty for roughing the kicker while Waterloo was punting almost proved very costly as it extended the drive and the orange and black Bulldogs took all the way down as far as Highland’s 3-yard line before the defense stiffened and forced Waterloo to turn it over on downs.
Highland finally iced the game by marching 91 yards in 15 plays and eating up 5:36 off the clock before Rakers took it to the house from the 2-yard line to make the final two-score margin with only 2:00 showing on the clock.
The bad part was Winning was injured when he was tackled after a 20-yard gain near the opposing sideline at HHS’ 40-yard line. Winning could not put any weight on the leg.
Up next for Highland is back-to-back daunting road games at undefeated MVC foes, first at Civic Memorial (5-0, 2-0) which is followed by the short trip to Triad (5-0, 2-0).