The Highland High football team won the Mississippi Valley Conference crown for the third time in the last four years, but the Bulldogs had to first survive a wild offensive shootout and claw out out a 49-46 win at the buzzer over the host Jerseyville Panthers Friday night at Snyders Sports Complex.
Junior kicker Elliott Prott booted a 39-yard field goal through the uprights with 5 seconds to play to lift Highland to its seventh straight victory this season. The Bulldogs (7-1 overall, 5-0 MVC) swept the conference for the third time in the past four seasons.
Highland, which is ranked third in Class 5A, hosts Charleston (3-5) in the regular-season finale this Friday night. An expected eighth consecutive victory would all but assure the Bulldogs a home game in their playoff opener next week.
Jerseyville (2-6, 1-4), who led 26-20 at halftime, rallied in the fourth quarter to deadlock the game at 46-46 on a 7-yard pass from Drew Sauerwein to Jacob Brady. Sauerwein also ran the 2-point conversion in for the equalizer with 2:19 left.
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But it was too much time for Highland and its signal caller, junior quarterback Garrett Marti, who guided the troops down the field to get in Prott’s range for the game-winning kick. Prott redeemed himself in the best possible way after missing two extra points during the game.
The teams missed a combined eight extra-point attempts, including five by the Panthers, who missed two PAT kicks and three two-point tries. Highland missed two PAT kicks and a 2-point attempt.
The Panthers have lost four heartbreakers this season and that made the difference between being playoff bound and having their season come to an end next week at undefeated Columbia. In addition to losing this game to Highland by three points Jerseyville has suffered a one-point loss, a four-point defeat and a six-point setback.
With Marti directing the offensive machine, the Bulldogs rolled up 501 yards in total offense. Marti carved up the the Panthers both through the air and on the ground. He completed 17-of-23 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns, while he also carried the ball 13 times for 120 yards and one TD.
Sophomore running back Brady Feldman and sophomore Sam LaPorta also had monstrous days.
Feldman, who combined for 195 yards receiving and rushing and three touchdowns, had five catches for 111 yards and two scores. On the ground, Feldman chipped in 84 yards and one TD on nine rushes.
LaPorta added seven receptions for 124 yards and one score.
Brandon Baalman led Jerseyville with four touchdown runs of 1, 15, 56 and 3 yards, respectively, while Sauerwein ran for two scores and threw for the one other.
Defensively, junior linebacker Kyle Lane led the Bulldogs with 20 total tackles, highlighted by 15 solos.
Highland opened the scoring on a 61-yard TD connection from Marti to LaPorta with 6:52 left in the first quarter to spark the game’s basketball-like scoring binge.
Baalman finished off the ensuing drive with 1-yard plunge, but the Panthers failed on the 2-point conversion so Highland held on to a one-point lead.
Three minutes and 32 seconds into the second quarter, Highland junior Cameron Altadonna hauled in a 12-yard TD pass from Marti to make it 13-6 after the extra-point kick failed.
Baalman scored back-to-back TDs on runs of 15 and 56 yards. The point-after kick failed after his first score, but Kurt Hall caught a pass from Sauerwein for a 2-point conversion after the second one to give the Panthers a 20-13 advantage with 3:35 left before half.
But the Bulldogs answered back as Feldman snagged a 37-yard touchdown pass from Marti to make it 20-20 after Prott’s PAT.
However, Sauerwein ran in from two yards out with just 11 ticks left to give gave the Panthers a 26-20 halftime lead.
Highland got third-quarter touchdown receptions from Kampwerth (nine yards) and Feldman (six yards) to carry a 34-26 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Sauerwein took it in for another 2-yard TD just five seconds into the fourth to chop Highland’s lead down to 34-32.
Marti responded with a 12-yard TD gallop of his own just 1:50 later to give his team a 40-32 edge.
Baalman’s 3-yard TD run made it 40-38 with 6:51 left, but the 2-point conversion attempt failed.
Feldman scored on a 3-yard run with 5:08 to go. A 2-point attempt failed again that would have possibly put the game away, so it remained a one-score game at 46-38.
That set the stage for the late-game heroics in which Jerseyville pulled even before Prott’s game-winning kick.