A strong effort by the Highland Scots kept Bloom-Carroll’s powerful offense in check for nearly 24 minutes of action when the Bulldogs hosted the Morrow County squad in a Division IV regional quarterfinal on Friday night.
A Bloom-Carroll team that had averaged just over 40 points per game over their first 11 contests of the season — a number that includes a 49-point effort in a Week One win at Highland — was held scoreless until getting on the board with a touchdown with less than two minutes to go in the first half.
Unfortunately for Highland, the second half would be a different story that featured the Bulldogs scoring three touchdowns and a field goal in pulling away for a 31-3 win. The Scot season ends at 8-4.
“I’m proud of them,” said Highland coach Ty Stover after the game. “I’m really proud of the seniors. They developed so much as leaders. It’s been a great season. I wish we could have gotten one more.”
The Scots stunned their opponents in the early going, taking the game’s opening possession deep into Bulldog territory and getting a 26-yard field goal by Caleb Hunter to lead 3-0. Those points were the first ones given up by Bloom-Carroll in quite some time, as they’d won their previous three outings by shutout.
The big play on that drive was a 48-yard run by Dane Nauman, while Cody Matthews added a 15-yard dash and also caught a pair of passes from Cooper Merckling.
Stover noted that he wasn’t disappointed his team had to settle for three.
“At that moment, we just wanted to catch the lead and get the momentum,” he said.
Highland’s defense held strong for much of the first half. Bloom-Carroll’s first two possessions quickly led to punts, while the third was stopped in Scot territory when Mason Duncan picked off a K.J. Benedict pass. However, the Scots weren’t able to add to their lead, as they also were unable to move the ball with much success.
Their best chance came when they got a nice punt return by Jay Melchiori to take the field at their own 46 with 8:48 led in the second quarter. A four-yard run by Nauman moved the ball to midfield and Merckling then connected with Eli Grandstaff for 10 yards. Two runs by Nauman, as well as a 10-yard pass to the sophomore back, got the Scots as deep as the Bulldog 25, but the drive fizzled there with Highland turning it over on downs.
Bloom-Carroll then went to a more fast-paced offense and drove 75 yards in eight plays, getting a five-yard scoring run by Chase Plantz to both get on the board and capture the lead at 7-3, which is how it remained going into the half.
The Bulldogs then opened the second half with a possession that ate up over five minutes of clock and resulted in a 16-yard scoring pass from Benedict to Beau Wisecarver. Bloom-Carroll would add scores on each of their next three possessions, getting a six-yard Benedict pass to Branyon Dodds, a 24-yard field goal from Plantz and a 15-yard pass from Wisecarver to Collin Willet after a muffed snap on a second field goal attempt.
Highland would not be able to match that offense. The team’s first two drives of the half were three-and-outs, while the third concluded with an unsuccessful fake punt and the fourth ended with Bloom-Carroll recording a blocked punt.
“We wanted to shorten the game a little bit,” said Stover. “We moved the ball real well in the first half, but just couldn’t do that in the second half. Hats off to them. The third quarter was real big. If we’d slowed it down a bit, it’d have been a lot better.”
Nauman finished with 120 rushing yards and 10 receiving. Merckling and Grandstaff combined to hit on 11-of-20 passes for 36 yards with Matthews, Grandstaff and Duncan combining for seven catches and 31 yards.
Despite the second-round playoff loss, Stover was very pleased with how his team performed this season, crediting them for their work ethic.
“I love my kids,” he said. “They work their butts off. It was a great season and I’m proud of them. We’ve really grown. We weren’t very experienced when we got to the season, but with their hard work, they became a veteran group real quick. After the River Valley game, they turned it on real quick. I can’t say enough about the kids.”