Highland’s football team had experience and toughness on the line of scrimmage and they tried to challenge Class 5A power Rochester with that mix Saturday.
The Rockets’ big-play offense, however, led by quarterback Clay Bruno, wideout Hank Beatty, and running backs Dalton Tieman and Jacob Durocher along with a stout offensive line and tough defense pushed the Bulldogs around and then pulled away for a 42-7 victory in an IHSA Class 5A second-round playoff contest at Highland High School.
Second-seeded Rochester (10-1) moved on and will face Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin next weekend in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
The Rockets gained control in the first quarter scoring on their first two drives thanks to a 9-yard touchdown run from Beatty and a 23-yard scoring run from Tieman for a 14-0 lead.
“We knew that they (Highland) were very similar to us offensively,” Bruno said. “We knew that they had big defensive lineman who were gonna fly around to the ball and we just had to come out and run the ball well and our offensive line had to do great, and they did.”
Highland nearly caught the Rockets midway through the first quarter, but quarterback Brent Wuebbles’ dump-off pass to Connor Sands was stopped on fourth down at the Rockets 2-yard line.
That led to Tieman’s touchdown run on the Rockets next series.
The Bulldogs finally got their offense going in the second quarter, as Wuebbles scrambled seven yards for a touchdown 7:59 before halftime to make it 14-7.
But on the next series, Bruno and Beatty connected a 70-yard touchdown bomb over the top of the Bulldog defense for a 21-7 lead. It was the type of big-play that gave Highland problems all day.
“Unfortunately, they made some big plays on 3rd and 4th down that kept their momentum going forward,” Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said.
“HB (Beatty), honestly, I have so much faith in him and that’s the look we were looking for (on that play) with the single high safety back there and we knew Hank had the speed to get up and over and he just ran that route,” Bruno said. “I wouldn’t rather throw it to anybody else either.”
Durocher punched in a 3-yard score for the Rockets, making it 28-7 just before the intermission.
At that point, it was fairly evident the Rockets were winning the battle of the line of scrimmage and that made the rest of the game an uphill climb for the Bulldogs.
“At the line of scrimmage, they beat us there and they beat us in the big plays,” Warnecke said. “They got a couple of big plays on us (both) run and pass and our 3rd and 4th down conversions we weren’t able to do much and we had to take some chances.”
Rochester added a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns on a 28-yard run by Beatty and a 72-yard run from Tieman to make it 42-7
Highland had two more red-zone trips in the second half, but the Rockets rugged defense stopped Highland’s offense.
“They were tough up front and it was tough for us to get (a) push and all their linebackers and defensive backs were coached up real well and ready to go and we just couldn’t quite execute as well as we wanted to,” Highland senior receiver Connor Sands said.
Logan Chander finished with 112 yards on 21 carries, while Wuebbles rushed for 65 yards on 12 carries. Highland saw its terrific season end at 7-4, which brought pride and tears to the Bulldog bench.
“Every year, it’s my worst favorite moment of the year,” Warnecke said. “When it’s the end, you’re rushing home to upload game film to watch, you’re not preparing for another opponent and everything comes out and the seniors leave with everything they’ve done in this program and that’s what makes this special.”