When the Highland Bulldogs were 1-3 and reeling, Brent Wuebbles, Connor Sands and the rest of their teammates didn’t panic. They just worked hard and got better.
On Friday night as Highland celebrated its 2020 senior class, the Bulldogs showed off the results of that hard work in bold fashion.
Wuebbles threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more while Sands caught a pair of touchdown passes as explosive Highland ripped Jerseyville 42-21 and claimed a share of its fourth consecutive Mississippi Valley Conference Championship in the process. Civic Memorial knocked off Triad Friday, 21-20, to tie Highland atop the league standings.
The win over the Panthers capped an amazing four-game win streak that has the Bulldogs back in the IHSA playoffs and ready to finish the regular season next Friday at Charleston with a flourish.
Friday’s victory was career No. 70 for Warnecke.
“It didn’t happen the way we drew it up but the key to success isn’t always measured by going undefeated and destroying teams by the end of the first half,” Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said. “This is one of the more memorable years because what we had to endure as a team with young inexperienced players and to be where we are now our fourth conference championship in four years, six in the last seven years hopefully, we’ll be stamping playoff tickets with our playoff points and getting five. I’m extremely proud of these boys.”
Highland (5-3, 4-1) scored fast to start the night as Wuebbles hooked up with Sands on a corner route for an acrobatic 25-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead just 1:18 into the game.
Jerseyville (2-6, 1-4) responded with an impressive 12-play, 65-yard drive capped off by Brian McDonald’s two-yard touchdown dive making it 7-7 with 5:11 left in the first quarter.
Wuebbles, the Bulldogs freshman quarterback went to work on the next two drives as he scored on a 22-yard run and then found junior running back Logan Chandler for an 8-yard TD pass and the Bulldogs were up 21-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The Panthers came roaring back late in the second quarter. Senior quarterback Matthew Jackson fired a 36-yard scoring pass to Carter Quinn and then with two seconds left in the half, the Panthers tied it at 21-21 on 14-yard Jackson to Garrett Carey scoring strike.
“This (Jerseyville) is a good football team,” Warnecke said. “They’ve played a lot of really good teams and undefeated teams down to the whistle, so we knew we were gonna get a tough game from them.”
Wuebbles, who threw for 133 yards on 7 of 13 passing and ran for 67 yards got the Bulldogs going again in the third as HHS took the opening drive and scored on his 15-yard touchdown run. “What we always say is that at the start of the second half it’s always 0-0- and that we have to win the second half,” Wuebbels said. “So we came out, but our work in and we did whatever it took. We just came together and said we have to get this (offense) going.”
Just before the end of the third quarter, Wuebbles went to the air and hit Sands with a 30-yard bomb over the top for a touchdown and the Bulldogs extended the lead to 35-21. Sands had a huge night in the receiving game with four catches for 94 yards. Sands, the senior wideout was happy to do his part in helping the Bulldogs win another conference title.
“We had a couple of scores on defense we didn’t want but we knew on offense we had to come back and respond to that, so it was a whole team effort and not just anyone (person),” Sands said. “It feels great, coming back from 1-3, it just fueled us and the losses fueled us to put in more work and more determination to get this done.”
Chandler finished off the scoring with a six-yard TD run with 7:15 to go. Chandler ran for 132 yards on 15 carries to fuel the Bulldogs ground game.
After giving three touchdowns in the first half, the Bulldogs defense threw a shutout in the second half on the Panthers.
Highland recovered two fumbles and picked off Jackson once for three takeaways.
Colby Davis and Sands led the defense with 9 tackles, Evan Clarkin and Tyler Horman had 6 tackles, and Liam Gallagher and Jack Korte each had 5 tackles.
“We had to figure out everyone’s job and we wall talked about it as a defense and did our job’s better,” Gallagher said. “I was just trying to be a ballhawk and get these tackles.”
Highland will look to wrap its playoff berth on Friday night at 7 p.m. when the Bulldogs finish the season on the road at Charleston.