With an offense which is led by one of the premier running backs in the metro-east in senior Andrew Winning and a stingy defense, the Highland Bulldogs haven’t let anything detour them from a 4-0 start to the 2015 season.
Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke is aiming to keep it that way.
Ranked 10th in the Associated Press Class 5A state poll, Highland will clash with Waterloo in its annual Mississippi Valley Conference battle of the Bulldogs on Friday at Highland High School.
The game will feature two teams which have, at least up to this point, been the exact opposite of each other through the first four weeks.
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While Highland has used near flawless execution and a favorable schedule to dominate its first four opponents, Waterloo has been mistake prone against a schedule which has included three state-ranked teams in Herrin, Columbia and Triad. On Friday, it will take on another state power in Highland.
“I believe Herrin has been ranked and then we played Columbia and Triad. Now Highland. It’s a tough five games to open the season,’’ Waterloo coach Dan Rose said. “We’re 1-3 and when we haven’t turned the ball over we’ve played pretty well. The problem has been turning the football over against good teams, they are going to take advantage of it and that’s exactly what has happened.’’
While Waterloo will be playing its fourth state-ranked team in five weeks, Highland has taken on struggling local teams such as Cahokia and winless Mascoutah in two of its four games. In Waterloo, the Bulldogs will take on another team which has struggled. But one that Warnecke knows could pull off the upset, if his team doesn’t execute well.
“We had some question marks heading into the season, but I would not say I’m surprised with us being 4-0. Looking at our schedule, I thought we had a chance to be in this position if we played well,’’ Warnecke said. “ We have played well on both sides of the football. We just want to keep improving each and every week.’’
FRIDAY’S GAME: Waterloo (1-3) at Highland (4-0), 7 p.m.
LAST MEETING: Highland defeated Waterloo 44-22 a year ago
LAST WEEK: Triad defeated Waterloo 35-14; Highland defeated Mascoutah 49-9
RANKINGS: Waterloo is unranked. Highland is No. 10 in the Associated Press Class 5A state poll and No. 5 in the News-Democrat Large School football poll.
Despite a disappointing 1-3 start, Waterloo has had its moments. The Bulldogs were impressive in a 41-12 win over Carbondale two weeks ago, but turned the football over six times in their MVC loss to undefeated Triad last week.
Outscored 106-45 in its three losses, Waterloo has been plagued by costly turnovers.
“The turnovers have just killed us,’’ Rose said. “We move the football well at times, then we’ll have a pass go through our hands or we fumble the football when we have a chance to score.
“We have also put our defense in some bad spots by turning the football over on our side of the field and giving the other teams a short field. It’s been a very frustrating season up to this point.’’
Waterloo is led by running back Max Jennings (307 yards, 4 TDs) and quarterback Aaron Laskowski, who has completed 40-of-69 attempts for 489 yards and seven touchdowns. But Laskowski also has thrown six interceptions.
Still, despite the Bulldogs turnover woes, Warnecke knows Waterloo will put up a fight.
“They have turned the football over a lot — I think they turned it over six times last week against Triad. But this is still an MVC game and it’s a Waterloo team that we know is well-coached and big and physical as they always are. We’ll have to play well.’’
The Bulldogs have lived up to their advanced billing and than some. Led by senior running back Andrew Winning (643 yards rushing, 14 TDs and 10.2 yards per attempt) and running mate Trent Rakers (242 yards, 12.7 yards per attempt), the Bulldogs have scored 40 or more points each week.
Sophomore quarterback Garrett Marti (22-of-42 for 332 yards and 3 TDs) has improved each week and the Highland defense is yet to allow more than nine points in any game.
“Andrew (Winning) being a three-year starter is someone who we looked at to carry a large part of the offensive load and he’s accepted that role and done an excellent job,’’ Warnecke said. “Plus with (Garrett) Marti being a sophomore and still learning, we haven’t had to ask him to do too much because we’ve been able to run the football and our defense has just been oustanding so far.’’