After three straight weeks away from home, the Highland football team perhaps put together its best performance of the season in their return to Sparta Friday night, as they beat Pleasant 45-6.
“It’s wonderful to be here, just happy to be back,” said head coach Ty Stover. “We actually had to teach our kids how to come back out of the locker room and go where the field was because we haven’t been here in so long.”
It didn’t take the team long to remember how to reach the end zone, though. After stalling on their first drive and punting the ball to the Spartan 20, Highland got a quick score when Hayden Kline picked off a Spartan pass and sprinted 28 yards for points. Caleb Hunter followed with his first of six successful point-after kicks and it was 7-0 at the 8:27 mark of the first quarter.
However, the Spartans would rally to put together an 11-play drive to get on the board, with a missed PAT the only thing keeping them from tying the Scots.
The rest of the game was all Highland.
On their next possession, the Scots got a pair of passes from Kolton Stover to Gavin Toombs for 10 yards and relied on the legs of star junior running back Dane Nauman to go the rest of the way. Nauman had runs of 11, 10 and 19 yards before scoring from the Pleasant seven to make it 14-6 one play into the second quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Scots went 44 yards in four plays. Stover hit Owen Stillwell for 20 yards and Nauman added three carries for 24, including a three-yard score.
Trailing 21-6, Pleasant was able to get one first down on their next drive, but had to punt again. This time, the Scots got through the line and were able to block the kick. Coach Stover was pleased with how his team got big plays when they needed to. Highland recorded three picks and that blocked punt in earning the win.
“We did have all sorts of good plays and, like I said, just try to keep building on the little things and I think we are,” he said. “As far as correcting them, I think we are doing that. It’s a great thing to see the kids have success.”
Highland would capitalize off that block and cover the 26 yards between that and the Spartan end zone, with Nauman picking up his third score of the game. Pleasant would then gamble on fourth-and-11 from their 41 late in the half, but get stopped for a loss.
With 36 seconds left from the Spartan 39, Highland went to the air with Kolton Stover hitting Zach Schmidt twice for 11 yards and Toombs once for seven to set up a 38-yard field goal by Hunter that sent Highland to the locker room with a 31-6 lead. Ty Stover noted that he wanted to put more of an emphasis on the passing game after the team’s run-dominated win over Ontario.
“We’ve got to grow up in the passing game and what we wanted to do here tonight is to do a little bit more in the passing game,” said the coach. We know what we have in the running game. Try to do a little bit more balance and we did that tonight and hopefully they keep at it.”
To open the third quarter, Highland withstood a Pleasant drive that included a 51-yard pass play and reached their seven to get the ball back on downs. From there, they went 93 yards in nine plays, with Stover hitting Hayden Kline for a 53-yard catch-and-run to make it 38-6.
The Scots then ensured the running clock would remain that way by picking off a pair of Spartan passes and also getting a short scoring run by Kort Sears to finish on top by 39 points.
“Tonight was a really nice performance by our kids and that’s just a testament to Monday through Thursday,” said Ty Stover. “They were focused in and when I came to the locker room tonight, I could see it in their eyes. They did a great job tonight.”
Nauman finished with 151 yards on the ground, while Stover threw for 111 on 9-of-11 passing. Kline had the 53-yard catch, while Schmidt had four receptions for 21 and Toombs added three for 17.
After starting the season 1-2 in non-conference play, Highland has responded by winning their first two league battles.
“I am pleased with it,” said Ty Stover of his team’s good start in MOAC play. “We’d like to have a game or so back from the start of our season that I thought we should have got, but that drives us to getting better. We know we have an uphill battle coming in the MOAC and every week in here, there are no gimmes. The best thing you can do is get the boys ready and see what they can do.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS