Late in the second quarter, it looked like Highland would be locked in a back-and-forth battle on Homecoming night with visiting Danville.
The final minutes of the period told a different story, though, catapulting the Scots to a 28-7 halftime lead in a game they would win by a 35-13 margin.
With 4:07 left in the second quarter, Highland took over on their 40 after forcing a Blue Devil punt. A false start pushed them back five yards, but was quickly proved meaningless when sophomore running back Dane Nauman took the handoff from Cooper Merckling and sprinted past the Danville defense on his way to a 65-yard touchdown. Caleb Hunter added one of his five extra point kicks to make it 21-7.
Highland’s defense then followed suit by forcing a three-and-out and giving the ball back to the offense on their own 26. Merckling quickly hit Jay Melchiori for 20 yards and, two plays later, Nauman did it again — this time running 54 yards for a score.
Danville had a late chance to score in the half, but a promising drive was ended by Aron West, who picked off a Max Payne pass on Highland’s 19 with six seconds left.
“We finally had a good end to the second quarter,” said head coach Ty Stover. “I was happy going into the locker room.”
Nauman finished with another huge game, tallying 255 yards and four scores on 22 rushes. Stover noted that a performance like that is the result of the entire offense working together.
“There have been some long lost heroes the last couple weeks,” he said. “The line does a good job and the receivers are coming along. They don’t get it much, but they make plays and block. You don’t spring big ones without their blocking downfield.”
The score remained 28-7 until late in the fourth quarter. The Scots took possession on their own 19 after a long Blue Devil drive ended with them turning the ball over on downs. Highland would then control the line of scrimmage and maintain possession for 14 plays and nearly eight minutes. Nauman ran eight times for 52 yards, including a six-yard touchdown; while Cody Matthews added four rushes for 24 yards and both Eli Grandstaff and Merckling contributed short runs.
“Both sides of the ball, we got after it in the box,” said Stover.
Danville would score on the final play of the drive to get back within 22 points, but Highland improved to 4-2, 3-0 in KMAC play with what turned into a convincing victory.
Early on, it looked like it would be a tooth-and-nail game. Highland immediately struck, getting a long Melchiori kick return to the Blue Devil 15 to set up a five-yard Matthews touchdown. However, Danville responded with a scoring drive capped by a 29-yard scoring pass from Payne to Spencer Payne to tie the game.
Highland would punt on their next possession, but wound up with good field position when Max Payne was intercepted by Gavin Hankins. Starting from Danville’s 30, runs of 10 and 20 yards by Nauman pushed them into the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
After that opening drive touchdown, the Scot defense wouldn’t give Danville any points until the very end of the game, allowing them the opportunity to give themselves some breathing room at the end of the half, which staked them to a big lead the rest of the way.
“We really shut them down after the first drive until the last drive when we had our freshmen in,” said Stover. “I’m happy for the young guys. They got in and played a series.”
Nauman’s big game led the team. Merckling added 7-of-11 passing for 44 yards, with Mason Duncan catching three passes for Melchiori adding two.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS