In a battle of state-ranked Class 5A football teams with prolific offenses, Triad and Highland engaged in a defensive struggle and it was the sixth-ranked Knights who got the better of the field position and therefore prevailed for a 13-3 victory over the No. 7 Bulldogs.
The win put Triad (7-0 overall, 4-0) in the driver’s seat to dethrone the two-time defending Mississippi Valley Conference champion Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1).
Triad went up 10-0 at halftime due in large part to defense, field position and penalties. After stopping Highland at its own 7-yard line, an 11-yard punt set up Triad at the Bulldog 18-yard line. Highland’s defense stepped up and held the Knights to a 26-yard field goal from Collin Black with 34.5 seconds left in the first quarter.
Triad got even better position when it scored the game’s only touchdown. Triad got even better position when it scored the game’s only touchdown. A good punt return from Adam Nelson and two costly personal foul calls on Highland on the play — one for a horse-collar tackle and the other for unsportsmanlike conduct — gave the Knights first and goal at the Bulldog 8-yard line.
Three plays later, junior quarterback Tommy Bauer faked a handoff and ran around the right end for a 3-yard TD to stake Triad to a two-score lead at 10-0 with 4:19 left in the half.
Triad’s defense pitched a shutout except for a 67-yard drive from Highland that led to senior Zeke Kaufman’s 28-yard field that cut the deficit back to one score at 10-3 with 25.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Knights offense responded on their ensuing possession by chewing almost six minutes off the block and marching to the Highland 5-yard line where Black put the game away with a 22-yard field to nudge it back to a two-score margin at 13-3 with just 6:39 to play in the game. The drive was aided by a pass interference call against the Bulldogs.
Triad Coach Paul Bassler
“Defense has been the strength of our football team all year long. We have explosive people but I knew going in that we were going to have to play a strategic game and field position was going to be the key to the entire game. Both defenses were really good. I know that they are shorthanded. The (freshman quarterback Sam) LaPorta kid did a good job running their offense and doing what they needed to do. We were just fortunate to make enough good plays. Even when we were down there in (four-down) territory we punted just to pin them in deep.”
Highland Coach Jimmy Warnecke
“I was extremely proud of the defense. We gave (Triad) great field position all night long, with special teams and not being able to do anything on offensive side of the ball. I thought our defense played outstanding. I take my hat off to coach Bassler and his team. That is a very good football team over there and their defense played outstanding and it had a lot do with it. I want to make it very clear that we make no excuses, with key players being out and this and that. We’ve got to step up and it’s next man up. You can’t put a freshman quarterback in a game of this magnitude and not be able to run the ball and expect to put everything on him. From an offensive perspective, we lost the battle in the trenches tonight and that’s on me, I’m the OC (offensive coordinator). We scored three points and we have got to be better.”
More from Bassler
“ It was a good Mississippi Valley Conference battle and hopefully we get to play them in the semifinals or something and not the first round or something crazy. This game doesn’t mean anything if we don’t come out here and compete next week and take care of business at home against CM, I mean it would all be for nothing. That’s what I am about to tell my team right now.”
Triad will face Mississippi Valley Conference rival Civic Memorial at home; Highland also is at home against Jerseyville. Both games kick off Friday at 7 p.m.