In a defensive war, Waterloo reclaimed the lead at 6-3 on Tyson Roedl’s 37-yard field goal with 73 seconds to go in the game, only to watch No. 2 Highland travel 65 yards in just 43 seconds to scratch out a 10-6 victory over the 15th seed Saturday afternoon in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
On just the fifth play, Highland (9-1), which won its ninth straight game, punctuated the lightning-quick game-winning drive with quarterback Garrett Marti rolling to his right to the middle of the field before lofting a pass back toward the visitor’s sideline to running back Brady Feldman breaking free for a 24-yard touchdown with just 24 ticks on the game clock.
“We executed on that last drive,” said Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke. “We did a lot of that today on defense, but we didn’t do a whole lot of that today on offense...Our final drive all came down to execution. We knew they were going to go double (coverage) on Sammy (LaPorta) so we used him as a decoy, and Brady Feldman is a great back out of the backfield.”
Warnecke said that play has been one of their better plays all year and they just needed to get the protection up front and they did.
“It was deep throwback at the sideline and it was a perfect throw and and a perfect catch, and it worked out for us this time,” he said.
While Waterloo’s season came to an end at 5-5, Highland will travel to No. 10 Metamora for a second-round tilt at 2 p.m. Saturday after Metamora (7-3) upset No. 7 Kankakee, 14-6.
For Waterloo, it was a crushing defeat after its defense was stout in holding Highland out of the end zone and never trailing until the waning seconds.
Marti, Feldman and LaPorta were the catalysts offensively for the HHS Bulldogs.
Marti completed 15-of-28 passes for 201 yards and rushed 17 times for 62 yards. Feldman was Highland’s leading rusher after toting the ball 18 times for 75 yards. He also chipped in four receptions for 65 yards, highlighted by the game-deciding grab. As he has been all season, LaPorta showed the way through the air with seven catches for 88 yards.
In addition, junior receiver Jacob Willis chipped in four receptions for 41 yards.
Highland junior linebacker Kyle Lane spearheaded the defensive performance with 15 total tackles, 12 of which were the solo variety.
Also turning noteworthy performances on the defensive side of the ball for HHS were sophomore Jack Etter with eight solo tackles, junior Noach Schmitt with eight total tackles, (six solos), LaPorta with seven total tackles (six solos) and sophomore Jacob Kruse with seven total tackles (four solos).
Scott Nanney led Waterloo’s ground game with 18 carries for 88 yards while quarterback Ross Schrader went 7-for-14 for 67 yards.
Additionally, Dalton Viglasky added a 47-yard punt return.
On defense for Waterloo, Ryan Wiggers led the way with 11 total tackles (five solos) and Kory Johnson finished right on his heels with 10 total tackles (five solos).
On the game’s opening possession, Waterloo turned Highland over on downs at its 3-yard line after Warnecke neglected the chip-shot field goal to go for the touchdown.
On its ensuing possession, Waterloo received a gift from Highland in the way of an offsides penalty while punting on a fourth-and-2 from its own 11. Waterloo took full advantage and marched to score the game’s only points of the first half on Roed’s 28-yard field goal with 3:42 left in the first quarter.
Highland finally tied the game up on Elliott Prott’s 35-yard field goal with only 4:43 remaining in the game.
Waterloo then reclaimed the lead on Roedl’s kick with 73 seconds to play only to have its hearts ripped out by Highland’s late heroics.
“They caught us in coverage on that last play and it’s a heartbreaker,” Waterloo coach Dan Rose said. “It was a gutsy game where our kids played hard and the Highland kids played hard. Good luck to them next week in the playoffs but it’s just a heartbreaker for us.”