The Highland football Bulldogs showed host Charleston why they are the 10th-ranked team in Class 5A by dismantling the Trojans 45-0 in a non-conference game last Friday.
Highland finished the regular season 8-1 and received the No. 5 seed in its 16-team half of the 32-squad Class 5A playoffs. The Bulldogs will host No. 12 Decatur Eisenhower (6-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the playoffs.
Against Charleston (0-9) last week, Highland scored on its first five drives, highlighted by erupting for 25 second-quarter points to make it a 38-0 laugher at halftime. A little less than halfway through the third quarter, the Bulldogs scored their final touchdown to begin a continuous running clock for the rest of the affair.
For the Bulldogs, it did not matter where their possessions began as they marched on drives of of 79 and 70 yards before taking advantage of really good field position to score on drives of 40, 45 and 37 yards.
Highland out-gained Charleston 354 to 104 in total net yards despite mixing in reserves with the regulars throughout the game on both sides of the ball.
The Bulldogs rushed for 215 yards on 26 carries and were led by junior running back Trent Rakers, who toted the pigskin 12 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
Conversely, Highland only surrendered 70 yards on the ground to the Trojans and it took Charleston 40 carries to reach that figure.
Highland sophomore quarterback Garrett Marti completed 9-of-17 passes for 139 yards and two TDs, both of which went to freshman Sam LaPorta for 40 and 5 yards. Rakers also caught two passes for 64 yards, highlighted by a 43-yard TD on a screen pass.
Marti also rushed three times for 44 yards, including taking a 27-yard run to the house in the second quarter.
Also for the Bulldogs, Zeke Kaufman returned an interception 21 yards for a score with 3:28 left in the first half, which came a mere seven seconds after Marti scored on his 27-yard scamper; senior running back Austin Nix ran for an 11-yard touchdown with 6:32 left in the third quarter to start the continuous clock; senior linebacker and senior Sam Teipe had five reception for 30 yards; and senior cornerback Paxton VonderHaar also contributed to the shutout with an interception of his own.
On its opening possession, Rakers did the brunt of the damage after galloping 43 yards on a screen pass on a third and eight and then finishing the drive with an exclamatory 39-yard touchdown sprint to make it 7-0 just 1:08 into the contest.
The Trojans moved the ball nicely on its first drive of the game, traveling 43 yards down to the Bulldogs’ 21-yard line before a fourth-and-two pass fell incomplete after sailing through a receiver’s hands.
Rakers then scored on a two-yard plunge to cap off a 70-yard drive on the Bulldogs’ next possession. The extra point was blocked but the Bulldogs still led 13-0.
Charleston was also hampered by bad field position, as has been the case for every opponent on Highland’s schedule, due in large part to the big right leg of Kaufman. Kaufman booted seven of his 11 kickoffs in to the end zone for touchbacks.
The Trojans approached near midfield when VonderHaar picked off a pass and returned it 42 yards. On Highland’s very next play on offense, Marti threw a strike to LaPorta for a 40-yard touchdown and the Bulldogs stretched their lead to 19-0 only 1:25 into the second quarter. The 2-point conversion failed for the Bulldogs.
Less than four minutes later, Marti and LaPorta hooked up again, this time for a TD toss of five yards. The 2-point conversion again failed but the Bulldogs still made it 25-0 with 6:39 to play before halftime.
Highland closed out the half with Marti’s 27-yard TD trot and Kaufman’s pick-6 on Charleston’s first ensuing play from scrimmage.
The only question remaining was when the continuous clock would begin and the answer was with 6:32 to go in the third quarter when Nix ran 11 yards to the house to put an exclamation on another lopsided Bulldog victory.
For the regular season, Highland outscored its nine opponents by a eye-popping combined margin of 352 to 106.
IHSA Class 5A Playoffs
Saturday, Oct. 31 at 1 p.m.
No. 12 Decatur Eisenhower (6-3) at No. 5 Highland (8-1)
The winner will play the winner of No. 13 Jacksonville (6-3) at No. 4 Champaign Central (8-1) in the second round
Friday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m.
No. 15 Mattoon (5-4) at No. 2 Triad (8-1)
The winner will play the winner of No. 10 Dunlap (6-3) at No. 7 New Lenox (Lincoln-Way West) (7-2) in the second round
IHSA Class 4A Playoffs
Saturday, Oct. 31 at 1 p.m.
No. 15 Breese Central (5-4) at No. 2 Columbia (9-0)
No. 10 Mater Dei (6-3) at No. 7 Civic Memorial (7-2)
The two winners will play each other in the second round
IHSA Class 3A Playoffs
Saturday, Oct. 31 at 2 p.m.
No. 11 Wesclin (6-3) at No. 6 Monticello (8-1)
The winner will face the winner of No. 14 Sullivan (5-4) at No. 3 Newton (9-0)