Highland was just a yard away from going up by two scores late in the first half before No. 10 Metamora turned the No. 2 Bulldogs over and then turned a potentially big deficit into a tie, and eventually a dominant performance.
A 90-plus-yard drive to close out the first half gave Metamora momentum that didn’t stop in a 28-7 Class 5A second-round upset over Highland, which hadn’t lost since the season-opener, on Saturday.
“We were making plays and we had them on their heels,” said Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke , whose team finished the season at 9-2. “Then we had (a turnover) and they had a great drive. When you’re playing a team this good with playoff tradition and a hall-of-fame coach, you have to play four quarters and not make mistakes.”
It all started when the Redbirds stopped a run from their 1-yard, then forced a fumble on the next play.
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“That’s the way our defense has been all year,” Metamora quarterback Jon Brunton said. “They’ve been so good, we’ve come to rely on them so much. I can’t say enough about them. Our offense needed that for sure.”
Metamora (8-3) had just two first downs when Matt Nelson recovered a fumble with 3:25 left in the first half. The Redbirds proceeded to go on a 91-yard scoring drive.
Brunton threw a 15-yard game-tying TD pass to Tyler Guerrero with 6.6 seconds left in the half. After the 12-play drive to end the half, Metamora then went 75 yards in 11 plays to start the second half.
Metamora had run 23 consecutive plays at that point and took the lead for the first time and for good. The Redbirds scored on their first three possessions of the half and had the ball for all but about seven minutes of the second half.
“We’ve had times when fires get lit and then go down,” Metamora coach Pat Ryan said. “But the second half was as good as we’ve played all year. Our offense put some nice drives together, some long ones. We had to earn it.”
Highland’s score was a 30-yard touchdown pass from Garrett Marti to Sam LaPorta with 20.9 seconds left in the first quarter. That capped a 94-yard drive that took just 78 seconds.
Highland out-gained Metamora 167-63 prior to the last drive of the first half.
But Marti, under pressure from Nelson, was intercepted by Meronk at the Metamora 1. On the next drive, Highland got to the Metamora 1 before the key fumble.
After that fumble, Metamora had 317 yards to 57 for Highland.
“The flow of the game was not in our favor for a while there,” Ryan said. “Our defense really gave us momentum. That’s happened before but we’ve not done anything with it. But this time was different.”
“You have to play to the finish,” Warnecke said. “We’ll learn a lot from this. We had a gritty group of guys and they played hard all year. They fought through some close games. These seniors won three games as freshmen and now they were one game from the quarterfinals.”
The Bulldogs should have another successful and exciting season next fall as they the cupboard should be loaded with returners on both sides of the ball.