After digging themselves into a huge hole at St. Clairsville Saturday night in their second-round Division IV playoff game, the Highland Scots were nearly able to come back before falling by a 47-30 score.
The Scots trailed by a 21-0 margin after 12 minutes of play and were behind 34-8 early in the third quarter before roaring back to get within one failed two-point conversion of making it a one-possession game in the early stages of the fourth.
“We started off a little slow,” said Highland coach Matt Jones. “Mistakes got us. We fought and never quit. I’m proud of them. It takes a lot to fight back against a quality opponent.”
In the early going, it looked like it would be an ugly night for the Scots. After taking the opening kick, they almost immediately turned the ball over, setting the Red Devils up on the Highland 38. A pass from Tyler Tonkovich to Colin Oberdick moved the ball to the 17 to set up three rushing plays by Jacob Jordan — with the last covering the final seven yards and staking St. Clairsville to a 7-0 lead.
Highland went three-and-out on their next possession and got a short punt to give their opponents good position again on the Scot 40. Four plays later and it was 14-0 after a 33-yard touchdown pass from Tonkovich to Austin DaRe.
The Scots went three-and-out once again. This time, the Red Devils started on their 37, but the result was the same. After an 11-play drive, Tonkovich called his own number and ran it in from six yards out to put his team up 21-0 with less than a minute to play in the opening period.
While Highland had to punt on their next two drives, their defense stiffened in the second quarter, as they forced Red Devil punts on their next two possessions, as well.
Late in the quarter, the Scots finally broke through on offense. Taking the ball on St. Clairsville’s 45 with 4:06 left in the half, three runs by quarterback Kadin Johnson and one from Dane Nauman moved the ball to the 30. Johnson found Gavin Hankins for seven yards and Nauman would handle the rest of the work, carrying the ball four times for 23 yards, including a six-yard scoring run.
Johnson then connected with Wyatt Hornsby for a two-point conversion and Highland had clawed back to a 13-point deficit with the first half nearly over. Disaster struck in the final seconds, though, as Oberdick ran the ensuing kick back 74 yards for a touchdown, giving his team a 28-8 lead going into the intermission.
“We had a pick and a bad punt, so we set them up with short fields from the get-go,” said Jones. “And right before the half, we gave up a kick return. Those mistakes can’t happen.”
St. Clairsville got the ball to open the third quarter and immediately scored on a long pass from Tonkovich to Oberdick to widen their advantage to 34-8. When Highland went three-and-out on their first drive of the half, the Scots were in a bad situation.
Hankins would save the day for the team, though, picking off a Tonkovich pass and running it back 54 yards for six points. Johnson then ran the ball in for two to bring the Scots back to within 18 points. However, St. Clairsville immediately responded with a 32-yard scoring run by Logan Shields to make it 40-16 with 5:37 left in the third quarter.
The Scots came back with a furious rally, though. A St. Clairsville pass interference call on third-and-seven moved the ball into Red Devil territory. Passes to Landyn Albanese and Jay Melchiori and a 25-yard scramble by Johnson got the team within scoring position and Johnson ran it in the final five yards for points. He added a two-point run to make it 40-24.
Highland then forced a quick punt to get the ball back on their 16 in the final minute of the third. Between his legs and arm, Johnson carried the Scots back down the field. The senior quarterback ran the ball 40 yards on five carries and added passes to Melchiori and Albanese, who had two receptions on the drive including an 11-yard touchdown with 9:03 left in regulation.
“He’s a special young man,” Jones said in referring to Johnson’s second-half heroics for Highland. “I love him to death.”
Unfortunately for the Scots, they were finally stopped on a two-point conversion, keeping them trailing by a 40-30 count, instead of making it a one-possession game. Even worse: St. Clairsville woke back up on offense, getting a quick score on a pass from Tonkovich to Oberdick to increase the Red Devil lead to a 47-30 margin.
Highland had the ball a few more times down the stretch, but were unable to move the ball as their postseason run came to an end.
“We just need to continue to execute,” said Jones of his team. “Even though we had the momentum (in the second half), we still made a couple mistakes. But the kids kept fighting and I’m proud of them for that.”
For the Scots, Johnson completed 15 passes for 110 yards and added 91 on the ground, while Nauman ran for 62. Albanese, Melchiori and Landon Remmert all had three catches in the game, while Layton Shaffer had a pair of receptions.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS