While it wasn’t always pretty, the end result of Highland’s Homecoming football game was to Scot coach Matt Jones’ liking.
Highland forced four Mount Gilead turnovers, including a key fumble that the Scots recovered in the MG end zone for a touchdown, in claiming their third straight win by a 28-13 margin. Highland is now 3-4, 3-1 in league play; while the Indians are 2-5, 1-3.
“That was definitely a grind tonight,” said Jones. “We did a lot of things wrong, but did what we needed to to get a win.”
Early on, it looked like the two teams would be in a shootout. Highland returned the game-opening kickoff to the Indian 32 and rode the legs of Landyn Albanese and Jack Weaver to the end zone, with Weaver scoring on a two-yard run. Riley Kemmer added the first of four successful PAT kicks and it was 7-0 not even 90 seconds into the game.
However, MG didn’t waste any time responding. Taking the ball on their 37, the Indians got a 22-yard run by Brady Mermann and, after the next two plays lost a total of eight yards, quarterback Joel Butterman scrambled for 37. Two plays later, Butterman found Nate Rogers in the end zone and Garrett Lamb-Hart added the extra point, tying the game at seven.
Highland was forced to punt on their next series, giving the ball back to MG. However, that proved to work out perfectly for the Scots. After Mount Gilead’s first play lost six yards, they fumbled on the next one and the ball bounced off several players until Cody Matthews recovered it in the end zone to give his team a 14-7 lead with 5:17 to go in the opening period.
“Four turnovers…we’re not going to survive that,” said Indian coach Phil Mauro. “We don’t have a real big margin of error. We can’t afford to turn the ball over.”
Jones noted that his might not have had its most consistent game, but was able to get big plays when necessary.
“Real key situations; no doubt about that,” he said. “When we needed that turnover, we got that turnover.”
Mount Gilead also fumbled on their next possession, but Highalnd wouldn’t be able to take advantage and had to punt. However, MG wouldn’t be able to move the ball and had to relinquish possession late in the first. Highland would then go on a long drive, but turned the ball over on downs deep in Indian territory.
After another MG punt, Highland would reach the end zone again, as a 32-yard pass from Kadin Johnson to Landon Remmert set up a seven-yard scoring scramble by Johnson to give the Scots a 21-7 advantage late in the half.
The Indians would respond again, though, going down the field and getting a 28-yard touchdown pass from Butterman to Owen Blanton to cut their deficit to a 21-13 margin going into the locker room.
Mount Gilead wouldn’t be able to score in the second half, though. Their first drive resulted in a Gavin Hankins’ interception. Highland would fumble the ball back to the Indians, but MG punted on the ensuing drive and the Scots would take advantage, getting a 28-yard touchdown run by Weaver to cap a seven-play drive.
Mount Gilead had an opportunity to score on their first drive of the fourth quarter, as they took the ball from their 40 to the Scot 32. However, after a seven-yard run for a first down by Nate Rogers on fourth-and-two, a long Butterman pass was picked off by Matthews. Mauro took responsibility for that mistake.
“One call — that last pick — was a bad call on my part,” he said. “We should have kept nickeling and diming it, but they made a good play on it. I wish we could take that one back.”
After getting the ball back midway through the quarter, MG had one final attempt to get back into it. They moved down to the Highland 25, but a pair of quarterback sacks pushed them back 20 yards and they wound up turning the ball over on downs, allowing the Scots to run down the final few minutes to claim the win.
Weaver led the Scots with 137 rushing yards, while Garison Hankins added 47. Johnson completed four passes for 73, with Remmert getting two receptions for 37. For the Indians, Butterman threw for 132 yards on 10 completions and also ran for 52. Mermann had three catches for 58 yards, while Blanton added four for 50.
Next week, Mount Gilead will host Fredericktown for their Homecoming game, while Highland travels to Centerburg.
“The kids played hard and made some good plays,” said Mauro. “I love coaching this team. They play hard every week. Every week is a new week and whether you won or lost last week doesn’t matter. It’s almost like you have 10 seasons.”
Jones is looking for a strong challenge from the Trojans.
“They’re going to be a handful,” he said. “They’re a young club and extremely well-coached over there. It’s a battle every year over there.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS