A Mississippi Valley Conference three-peat certainly is sweet for the Highland Bulldogs, but it is only the first box they hope to check off over the next few weeks.
The Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 5 in the latest Associated Press Class 5A Poll, methodically rolled to a 21-0 halftime lead Friday, on their way to a 41-7 win over the Mascoutah Indians at Highland High School.
The win wrapped a third-straight MVC title for coach Jim Warnecke’s team. It also extended their regular-season win streak to 25 games, 16 of those coming in conference play.
“We set goals at the end of August and this is the first check mark,” said Warnecke, whose 8-0 team can wrap up a second-straight unbeaten regular season next week when it hosts Charleston, “and we’ll go in the locker room now and check it off the board.
“We’ve got a few more we want to get to after that.”
Behind the running of Brady Feldmann and the passing of Jack Etter, the Bulldogs methodically rolled to its halftime advantage.
Feldmann rushed for 81 yards in the first half and scored the game’s first touchdown on an 18-yard run with 3:10 left in the first quarter.
Etter helped put Highland’s second-quarter points on the board with scoring passes of 10 yards to Jacob Kruse and 47 yards to Dylan Apken.
It was after halftime when senior All-State receiver Sam LaPorta made his mark on the game with a quick minute and 35-second burst of dominance.
The 6-foot-4 LaPorta capped the Bulldogs’ first possession of the third quarter, when he went up between two defenders in the back of the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
LaPorta ended Mascoutah’s ensuing offensive possession on its second play with his third interception of the season.
Two plays later, he was back in the end zone using his size to go over top of a pair of defenders on a 17-yard fade near the goal line.
LaPorta said he had no problem not playing a big role in the offense during the first half, when he had just one catch for 11 yards.
“I am more excited when I get to watch my teammates make the big plays,” said LaPorta, who has 14 TD passes on the season and finished the game with six catches for 100 yards. “It’s great to see them get in the end zone. It’s a team effort.”
A 2-yard TD run by Brady Trame put Highland ahead 41-0 early in the fourth quarter and instituted a running clock.
Mascoutah, which had put up 56 points in a win over Civic Memorial last week, got on the scoreboard with 6:51 remaining, on a 16-yard scoring pass from Devon Ross to Jamani Giles.
A big reason for Masoutah’s offensive struggles, Highland’s ability to bottle up Indians star running back Willis.
Willis, who has twice ran for more than 250 yards in game this season, had gained 101 in the win over CM.
Highland limited him to 53 on 13 carries.
“We just read their linemen, stay true to what our defensive coaches teach us,” said Highland sophomore defensive lineman Sam Buck of their effort against Willis. “Get off the blocks, hitting him in the back field and driving him.”
Despite the loss Mascoutah still can secure its first postseason berth since 2009 with a win next week against Centralia.
“We cannot sit around and whine about what happened,” said Mascoutah coach Josh Lee. “Highland’s a great program, a disciplined team. They’re what we aspire to be.
“We’re going to get right back at it Saturday, because we know that the playoffs are still there for us.”
Feldmann finished the game with 16 carries for 106 yards.
Etter passed for 259 yards and four touchdowns.