As opposing teams are quickly learning, stopping or slowing down one of Highland’s three high-impact offense weapons isn’t enough.
In junior quarterback Garrett Marti, senior running back Trent Rakers and sophomore receiver Sam LaPorta, the Bulldogs present persistent headaches for area defensive coordinators.
Friday’s Game: Mascoutah (1-2) at Highland (2-1), 7 p.m.
Marti ran for 200 yards and two touchdowns last week in a victory over Salem, pushing his season rushing total to 331 yards and four TDs on 45 carries. He also has completed 47-of-70 passes for 657 yards and four TDs after winning a preseason competition at quarterback with LaPorta.
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“The biggest thing last year to this year is his throwing ability,” said Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke, who said Marti compares favorable to former Bulldogs star quarterback Logan Geiger. “He’s a duel threat now — and a legitimate one. From Day 1 that kid stepped it up. He proved to everyone that he was the man and he wanted it.
Marti is always a threat, but so are Rakers (325 yards rushing, six TDs) and LaPorta (17 catches, 324 yards, four TDs). Any of the three can score on any play.
“When you watch tape on them, they just have good, solid people at every single position and they’re super well-coached,” said first-year Mascoutah coach Josh Lee. “They’re kind of the total package.”
Last week: Highland cruised to a 47-14 victory over Effingham while Mississippi Valley Conference rival Mascoutah lost 30-29 to Salem.
That was a stinging defeat for Mascoutah, which led 29-22 only to watch Salem score a touchdown and add a 2-point conversion with 31 seconds remaining. The Indians had just taken the lead with 1:27 remaining on a 2-yard run by explosive quarterback Darius Cooley.
He’s got a little Johnny Manziel in him. He’s an athlete, the ball’s in his hands every play and that makes you a little uneasy defensively.
Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke on Mascoutah quarterback Darius Cooley.
The bitter late defeat was eerily similar to the season opener, when Central scored on a TD pass with 10 seconds remaining to avoid the Indians’ upset bid and win 33-27.
“We’ve had a couple heartbreak losses that are tough to deal with mentally and emotionally and everything else,” Lee said, “but the kids have put a lot into it and have really bought into what we’re doing. We made some key mistakes, on my part and some players’ part, plays they wish they had back. But overall, things are going in a positive direction.”
Scouting Mascoutah: The elusive Cooley has been something of a revelation at quarterback while running the Indians’ triple-option offense out of a spread formation.
“He had never played quarterback in his life until this year and he has done an amazing job,” Lee said. “He’s having to learn everything, from throwing mechanics to footwork, to the offense, the coverages and the checks we run in our offense.
“He is a smart, smart kid and that has helped tremendously with how well he understands things.”
Cooley ran for two TDs and threw two TD passes in the loss to Salem.
“He’s got a little Johnny Manziel in him,” Warnecke said. “He’s an athlete, the ball’s in his hands every play and that makes you a little uneasy defensively. They’ve got some ways to hurt us offensively.”
On defense, the Indians are led by senior defensive tackle Zach Wheeler and junior free safety Ronald Clay, a transfer who played on a state championship team last season in Utah.
Scouting Highland: Along with the trio of big-play offensive weapons, the Bulldogs have made strides with an offensive line that Warnecke had to deal with after the season-opening loss to Cahokia.
Warnecke, whose offensive line has been a source of pride in recent seasons and produced two all-staters in Tanner Farmer (Nebraska) and Nick Czar (Navy; now at defensive end), challenged his group to get better.
“We weren’t finishing blocks and weren’t doing what’s expected of us,” Warnecke said. “We had a pretty long talk on Saturday after Week 1. Those boys have responded since then.”
Junior linebacker Kyle Lane anchors the Highland defense.