Competing in their season-opener at home under first-year head coach Ty Stover, Highland’s football team had a tough test in a Bloom-Carroll team that won a Division IV regional championship last year.
While the Scots wound up falling by a 49-17 margin, Stover found a lot to be proud of in the loss. His team made some big plays early on and had the Bulldogs in a hole before wearing down near the end of the second quarter.
“I wish we could have capitalized a little bit,” said the coach. “I know they played hard and can be proud of what they did. Bloom-Carroll is a heck of a team.”
The Scots struck first in the contest in surprising fashion. Bloom-Carroll took the opening kickoff at their 30-yard line and advanced deep into Highland territory. However, while the Highland defense bent, it didn’t break and their opponents had to attempt a 25-yard field goal. The Scots blocked that kick and Dane Nauman snapped it up, running 92 yards for a touchdown. Caleb Hunter added the extra point and the home team led 7-0 at the 8:32 mark of the first quarter.
Bloom-Carroll rebounded from that setback to quickly move down the field, going 69 yards in five plays, with running back Dylan Armentrout covering the final 21 to tie the game at one touchdown each.
It wouldn’t stay even for long, though. After a three-yard run by Nauman put the ball on the Scot 26, quarterback Cooper Merckling connected with Gavin Hankins deep and the junior receiver turned that throw into a 74-yard touchdown. Hunter’s extra point made it 14-7 midway through the opening period.
The game got sloppy on offense for the rest of the quarter, with both teams committing a pair of turnovers over those six minutes. However, the Bulldogs would open the second period with a scoring pass from K.J. Benedict to Dylan Armentrout to tie things up at 14.
Highland would then punt on their final three possessions of the half and Bloom-Carroll made them pay on two of those. Chase Plantz scored on a 16-yard run with 5:53 left in the half to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the night. Then, with time running out in the second period and BC facing a fourth-and-four from the Scot 26, Benedict hit Branyon Dodds in the end zone for seven more points.
Stover felt his team struggled in two key things which allowed the Bulldogs to battle back to take a two-touchdown lead into the half: play in the trenches and time of possession.
“They owned the box today,” he said. “We have young guys in there and older guys who haven’t seen Friday night action. Their experience wore us down over four quarters. We wore down a little bit. We had 40 or 50 plays on defense in the first half.”
The Bulldogs continued to pull away in the second half, getting one touchdown in the third quarter and two in the fourth. While Highland’s offense did a better job of ball control over that time, they wouldn’t be able to finish off a pair of good drives and also were hurt by turnovers.
They held the ball for over five minutes in the third quarter, moving the ball from their 22 to the Bulldog 21, but a fumble ended that scoring threat. Late in the game, they moved from their 22 to the BC 12 — with a 43-yard run by Nauman eating up a significant chunk of those yards — before settling for a 29-yard field goal by Hunter.
“The kids are wonderful here and are working hard,” said Stover. “And I expect them to continue working hard.”
Nauman finished with 97 yards on the ground, while Merckling completed four passes for 101 yards. Hankins had his 74-yard touchdown, while Jay Melchiori, Layton Shaffer and Eli Grandstaff also recorded catches.
Next up for the Scots will be future MOAC league rival Ontario, who will also be looking to bounce back from an opening week loss — a 45-0 setback against Lexington.
“I don’t take much from Ontario’s score because Lexington has a good club,” said Stover. “We’ll have our hands full next week. I hope we move forward from our mistakes and shore some things up offensively and defensively.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS