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Highland hopes experience pays off with another long playoff run

Highland quarterback Jack Etter completed 8 of 9 passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-7 win over Belleville East Friday. Etter returned an intercepted pass for a score.
Highland quarterback Jack Etter completed 8 of 9 passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-7 win over Belleville East Friday. Etter returned an intercepted pass for a score.

The Highland Bulldogs begin what they hope will be another lengthy postseason run on Saturday when they host the (Olympia Fields) Rich Central Olympians in a Class 5A first round playoff game. Kick off is set for 5 p.m.

The Bulldogs (9-0), which reached the Class 4A semi-finals a year ago, losing to eventual state champion Rochester, put the finishing touch on a second straight regular season on Friday with a 54-7 win over Charleston. The No. 2 seed in the bottom half of the Class 5A bracket, the Bulldogs are making their seventh straight and 21st overall postseason appearance.

Still, despite that success.. Highland has qualified for the state seimi-finals only twice. The trip last year was the first since the 1989 season when all-state running back Billy Greenwald led Highland to a 12-1 mark. The Buldogs lost to Morris 40-14 in a Class 4A semifinal.

Bulldogs coach Jim Warnecke is hoping this is the year his team takes that next step.. On Saturday against the Olympians, HIghland begins that quest.

“ I know very little about Rich Central. From what I see on film, they appear to be a very solid team that is well coached. We are going to have to make plays to win,’’ Warnecke said. “Our football team this year is very similar but each team has their own identity. Our focus at this point is to win a state championship. Our program has done some good things in the past 4-5 years but it is time to take the next step. ‘’

Led by an experienced offensive line and a polished attack spearheaded by quarterback Jack Etter, running back Brady Feldmann and all-state wide receiver Sam LaPorta, Highland averaged 46.1 points, while giving up only 9.3 points per game. Only Alton stayed within 21 points of Highland this season. The Bulldogs defeated the Redbirds 21-0 in the season opener.

“The offense is rolling along pretty good right now, but we have to prove it in the post-season just like every other team,’ Warnecke said “Jacl (Etter) has progressed at the quarterback position very nicely. His grasp of the offense, playmaking ability, intelligence, and the way he competes are all qualities that have made him and ultimately our offense a success to this point.’

“I can’t say enough about the job our Oline has done thus far. It helps having Trevor Zobrist and Wes Schmollinger returning this year at both tackles with 13 games of experience last year as sophomores. Sam Buck has been a beast at guard for us. It was a very tough loss losing Payton Cave at left guard (ACL/MCL), but I have to give a lot of credit to Tyler Langendorf moving from center to guard and Clayton Rieke coming in and doing a solid job at center. ‘’

While Highland enters the postseason playing perhaps its best football of the year, Warnecke still wonders if his team has been tested enough and how it will react in close games. So far in ‘18, Highland hasn’t been pushed.

“I think you always wonder about this, and you dont know for sure until presented with adversity. However, with this group, I have no concerns about how they will respond to adversity. They will compete until the very end.,’’ Warnecke said “It’s who they are and what they’ve been doing all their life in sports. Additionally, we push each other pretty hard every week in practice. We compete vs each other in practice at a very high level.’’