Highland’s 24-0 Mississippi Valley Conference win over rival Triad Friday night, coupled with several teams above them losing last week week, helped elevate the Bulldogs (6-1) to the No. 3 slot in the new Class 5A state poll. That is one of the highest rankings in school history for the Bulldogs, while arch rival Triad (5-2) fell to 14th in the state standings.
And Highland, which clinched at least a share of the Mississippi Valley Conference crown at 4-0, is not likely to fall in the state rankings over the last two weeks of the season. The Bulldogs travel to Jerseyville (2-5 overall, 1-3 MVC) this week and finish the season with a home date against Charleston (2-5).
Playing major roles in Highland’s decisive shutout win over Triad was junior quarterback Garrett Marti returning to the fold and the Bulldogs defense dominating the line of scrimmage en route to pulling off an extremely rare shutout of the Knights.
In addition, Triad was without several starters on offense and defense due to rules violations, although the Knights had their players at the skill positions including their leading rusher, quarterback Tommy Bauer and fullback Tom Kraudel.
Marti returned after missing the past two games with a rib injury but looked like he never missed a beat.
Adding extra incentive for Marti was that he missed the rivalry game at Triad last year, and Highland suffered a 13-3 loss that ended the Bulldogs’ two-year reign as Mississippi Valley Conference champions and secured the league title for the Knights.
A big stake in this year’s MVC crown was on the line again.
“I couldn’t wait to come back after I missed it last year, because it’s a rivalry game and a big game,” said Marti who completed 12-of-24 passes for 165 yards with one touchdown and rushed nine times for 77 yards and a score. “I felt like I had to step up, but it wasn’t just one guy. Everybody stepped it up tonight.”
Marti scored on a 15-yard touchdown gallop to make it 17-0 with 6:50 to go in the third quarter and then finished off the scoring with a 33-yard TD toss to sophomore Brayton Moss late in the third quarter.
“I’ve been going to a chiropractor — that helped a lot — and knew I was going to go this week no matter what,’’ Marti said.
The win was the sixth in a row for the Bulldogs (6-1), who clinched at least a share of the Mississippi Valley Conference with a perfect 4-0 mark while also eliminating defending champion Triad (5-2, 2-2) from a chance at a title repeat.
Additionally, Highland guaranteed itself a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive campaign.
Highland only has to win at Jerseyville (2-5, 1-3) next week to win it outright and sweep the MVC for the third time in the last four years.
“It feels good but we still got a big game next week because we don’t want to share it and we want to bring it back to Highland next week,” Marti said.
In addition to Marti’s performance, sophomore Brady Feldman did a great job taking over as the lead running back in place of injured senior Trent Rakers. Feldman toted the ball 21 times for 118 yards and scored the first touchdown on a 4-yard plunge that cashed in on a Triad fumble on its opening possession. Junior Colton Knebel recovered the fumble at the Knights’ 49-yard line.
“Brady Feldman did a really good job replacing Trent. He had a big game tonight,” Marti said.
Also on offense for the Bulldogs, sophomore Sam LaPorta had five receptions for 77 yards and junior kicker Elliott Prott booted a 42-yard field goal to give Highland a 10-0 lead late in the first half. Prott also converted both extra points.
On defense, junior linebacker Kyle Lane led the Bulldogs with 18 tackles (10 solos) as he and his troops stifled Bauer to just 38 yards rushing on 18 carries. Kraudel was the only Knight who was productive on the day after rushing for 107 yards on 13 carries.
Also stepping up on defense for the Bulldogs were Moss with 11 tackles (nine solos), sophomore Jack Etter with nine tackles (seven solos), junior Noah Schmitt with nine tackles (six solos) and LaPorta had a fumble recovery.
Triad’s defense was led by Cody Qualls with eight total tackles (four solos) and Justin Del Rosario with seven total tackles (five solos).