Highland rode a fast start and an opportunistic defense to a 41-6 home win over Linden McKinley in the first round of the Division IV playoffs on Friday.
The Scots had a 14-0 lead two minutes into the game, while the team’s defense forced six turnovers on a rainy night. The game opened with Highland taking the opening possession 55 yards on four rushes by Dane Nauman, including a 13-yard touchdown.
Linden then quickly fumbled the ball to set the Scots up inside the 10-yard line, leading to a seven-yard scoring run by Nauman. Caleb Hunter’s extra point made it 14-0 with only two minutes gone in the game.
“Honestly, it was good to start off quick,” said Highland coach Ty Stover. “Hats off to them (Linden). They played their butts off and were respectful.”
Linden would then ride the arm of quarterback Chris Towns into Scot territory at the 26, but Highland’s defense would stiffen and the team turned the ball over on downs. Nauman would take charge again, getting a 22-yard run followed by a dash for a 47-yard touchdown that gave his team a 20-0 lead with 6:53 to go in the opening quarter.
“He’s just going to get stronger and faster,” said Stover of his sophomore back. “He just turned 16 and he broke the single-season rushing record at Highland.”
The Panthers would get on the board late in the quarter on a touchdown pass by Towns and, after a Highland punt, looked to be driving again, as a pair of passes from Towns helped get them into Scot territory. However, another fumble handed the ball back to the Scots and they would respond.
A 49-yard run by Nauman set the team up inside the Linden 10 and three plays later, Cooper Merckling hit Mason Duncan for a three-yard touchdown to give Highland a 27-6 lead with about 10 minutes to go in the first half.
Neither team would light up the scoreboard the rest of the way in the second quarter. A promising Linden drive ended with an interception, while Highland then drove from their three to the Panther 15 before miscues drove them backwards and they turned the ball over on downs with seconds to go in the period.
“It was working great,” said Stover of his offense, “but we got after them at halftime. We were missing assignments.”
After the first few possessions of the third quarter didn’t lead to any offense, Highland started clicking on their second possession of the half. Taking the ball at their own 42 after a Linden punt, they rode the legs of Nauman down the field, with the back scoring from seven yards out to make it 34-6.
The Scots added a four-yard touchdown run from Cody Matthews in the fourth quarter for an insurance touchdown that also made it a running clock for the final 8:17 of the contest.
With the weather conditions being less than favorable, Stover was pleased with how his players handled things. In contrast to Linden’s six turnovers, his squad only had one — an interception early in the third quarter that didn’t lead to anything.
“With a night like tonight with the rain coming down, you never know where the ball will go,” said the coach.
Nauman finished with 304 yards on the ground, while Matthews added 23. Merckling completed a pair of passes for 25 yards, with Layton Shaffer catching one for 22 yards.
Next up for the Scots will be a road game with Bloom-Carroll. In the season-opener for both teams, Highland led early and kept the game close until just before halftime, but wound up falling by a 49-17 score. Since then, the Bulldogs haven’t exactly been challenged in manufacturing an 11-0 record which includes three consecutive lopsided shutouts, including a 49-0 playoff win over Warren on Friday.
“I haven’t seen them since the first week,” said Stover. “I just know they’ve been beating the heck out of teams.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS