Highland went into its first-round playoff game at Cahokia with an untested freshman quarterback, their best lineman Sam Buck lost to injury, Logan Chandler dealing with back issues, and a pair of freshmen helping out in the backfield.
None of that mattered.
The Bulldogs defense forced four turnovers and a 4th down stop in the final minute and Highland held off the Comanches for a 21-20 IHSA Class 5A playoff first-round victory at Cahokia’s O’Brien Field.
Tenth seeded Highland (7-3), winners of six-straight games, advances to face No. 2 seed Rochester at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at home in the second round next weekend.
“Just the way these kids fought all day long to the very end, I’m so proud of them,” Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said.
“We didn’t have some calls and things go our way in the second half but the way they just stayed on it, I think they let that stuff fuel them. We always say you gotta perform each and every game and I’m extremely proud of the effort they gave today.”
Highland jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter as an interception set up a 53-yard Connor Sands touchdown run and a 2-yard scoring run by Chandler.
Off another Comanches turnover, HHS moved the lead to 21-0 on a 23-yard pass from Brent Wuebbles to Cade Altadonna.
Seventh-seeded Cahokia (7-3) finally got on the board with 3:05 left in the half on a Xavier Mix 70-yard kick return for a TD.
The Comanches offense got rolling int the third quarter as Vincent Perry scored on a 5-yard run and Shawn Binford took a dump pass 91-yards to the house, cutting the lead to 21-20. The PAT kick was blocked by the Bulldogs.
Cahokia had one final chance to pull the game out but Sands knocked down Chris Bradley’s 4th and goal pass.
Chandler, who ran for 102 yards on 20 carries, picked up a 1st down on the next series and the Bulldogs ran out the clock to end the Comanches season.
“Every time we made a turnover or mistake, we were moving the football down the field,” Cahokia coach John Clay said. “It’s tough to win when you make those type of mistakes.”
Wuebbles was glad Chandler could finish off the game for Highland.
“It’s a great feeling handing the ball off to him because you know you cant trust him getting yardage,” Wuebbles said.