Highland sophomore quarterback Garrett Marti returned as the signal caller on Friday night, and for the majority of the game he looked like he never missed a snap en route to directing the Bulldogs back on the winning track with a 47-13 romp over visiting Jerseyville, 47-13.
Highland improved to 7-1 overall and wrapped up the Mississippi Valley Conference season in emphatic fashion with a 4-1 record.
But the two-time defending champion Bulldogs had to settle for second place this year after Triad (8-0, 5-0 MVC) was in no mood to share. The Knights clinched the conference crown outright Friday night after overcoming an early 7-0 deficit to throttle visiting Civic Memorial (6-2, 3-2), 35-13.
The bottom three in the MVC finished as follows in the league standings: Waterloo (2-3), Jerseyville (1-4) and Mascoutah (0-5).
With Marti returning under center, Highland rolled up 458 yards of total offense, with 303 of that total coming on the ground on 35 rushes (8.7 yards per tote) along with five rushing touchdowns.
Marti powered the offense with 301 yards combined and four total touchdowns.
Marti rushed for 145 yards and three TDs on just seven carries, which is a hefty 16.1 yards per rush. He scored on long scampers of 23, 73 and 31 yards.
Through the air, Marti went for 10-for-17 for 156 yards and one TD pass.
Junior workhorse running back Trent Rakers also topped 100 yards rushing as he went for 124 yards and two TDs after toting the ball 17 times. Rakers was also Marti’s deadliest weapon in the passing game, snaring three receptions for 76 yards, which was highlighted by a 56-yard TD catch-and-run on a screen pass.
Highland’s defense racked up five sacks and forced two Panther turnovers, with senior linebacker Seth Levad recording both on two interceptions, including running the second one back 85 yards for a touchdown with no time left on the clock. Levad, who also had seven solo tackles, has a team-high five picks this season, three of which he returned for scores. Levad also contributed on offense, catching three passes for 31 yards in the game.
Also showing bite on the Bulldog defense were sophomore defensive end Josh Burke with three sacks and four solo tackles, senior linebacker Sam Teipe with seven one sack, seven solo tackles, and four tackle assists, senior linebacker Zeke Kaufman with one sack, seven solo tackles and one tackle assists, and sophomore linebacker Kyle Lane with eight solo tackles and one tackle assist.
Although Highland’s performance was strong, it was far from perfect. Marti had two turnovers on one interception and one fumble. The special teams struggled with three missed field goals and a blocked extra point.
In addition, Highland’s defense did well against the run after only allowing just 71 yards on 31 carries for a paltry 2.3 yards per rush.
However, Jerseyville had success throwing the ball. Sophomore quarterback Drew Sauerwein completed 24-of-41 for 208 yards and one touchdown. Sauerwein also ran for a 12-yard score and his TD pass came on a 19-yard connection to sophomore receiver Blake Wittman, who finished with a whopping 13 receptions for 100 yards.
Highland scored touchdowns on it first four possessions to take a commanding 28-0 lead with still 8:39 to play in the first half. Rakers scored the first two and Marti the next two.
Rakers got Highland on the board with a 2-yard plunge with 6:53 to go in the first quarter to cap off a nine-play 73-yard drive.
After a three-and-out by Jerseyville, the Bulldogs were faced with a third-and-3 at their own 44-yard line when Rakers took a screen pass from Marti and raced up the near sideline before cutting all the way across the field to run into the far corner of the visitor’s end zone to make it 14-0 with 4:34 remaining in the first quarter.
After the second straight three-and-out by the Panther offense, Marti finished off a 55-yard drive by scampering 23 yards to pay dirt to make it 21-0 just 1:13 into the second quarter.
Marti then capped off the explosive four possessions with his 73-yard gallop.
Highland Coach Jimmy Warnecke
“I think you saw what (Garrett Marti) can do with his legs. He’s a big play guy for us and he has been all season. You take him out of our offense and Andrew (Winning) out of our offense and you are taking away two big-play guys. Tonight was (Marti) night. On the read, they were taking Trent (Rakers) and Garrett did his thing. He would be the first to tell you that he couldn’t do that without all of the other guys doing their job up front and at the wide receiver position, but it definitely was nice to have him back.”
Highland travels to Charleston for a 7 p.m. non-conference tilt on Friday night to wrap up the regular season and the goal is to take care of business against the Trojans to finish 8-1 and almost undoubtedly host a first-round playoff game for the third straight year.
“We have hosted the last two years here and we have had a lot of success on this field — we’ve lost one game in three years on this football field — so we were hoping to take care of business tonight and next week and hopefully get a home playoff game for our town and our community here,” Warnecke said.