It didn’t take long for a tone to be set when Highland hosted Defiance Tinora in the first round of the Division IV playoffs on Friday. Unfortunately for the Scots, that tone wasn’t to their liking.
After forcing a three-and-out on Highland’s first drive, Tinora took possession on their own 26. One handoff to running back Cole Anders later and they were in the end zone. The Rams held a 7-0 lead barely two minutes into the contest and never relinquished it in claiming a 37-7 decision.
Highland head coach Ty Stover noted that his team had battled the injury bug all season and it finally got the best of his Scots (7-4) late in the season.
“Our kids have been hammered on all year long with major injuries and it’s just now catching up with us at the worst time of the year,” he said. “I can’t be mad at our kids because this week we came out and worked as hard as we have all year in practice. We have battled and battled and next thing you know, we get into a situation like this where they’re fresh, we’re not and it showed. The passion and energy, they tried to get it going, but it just wasn’t there.”
A potent Tinora rushing attack that netted 292 of their 358 yards didn’t help matters.
“They hit some seams,” said Stover. “The first long run that they had was just we weren’t in very good body position to make the tackle and after that it was just kind of four yards and four yards and we’d get them behind the sticks and then they’d break one.”
Highland was able to move into Ram territory on their second possession of the game thanks to a 17-yard scramble by quarterback Zach Church and a few carries by Dane Nauman that netted 10 yards, but their drive stalled at the Tinora 35. After the teams then traded punts, the Rams got back on the board with a short scoring run by Dallas Dachenhaus to make it 13-0 early in the second quarter after the Scots blocked the extra point.
Highland would punt on their next possession, but then forced and recovered a fumble. Starting from the Ram 39, they were able to ride the legs of Nauman to the 19, but a sack and penalty pushed them back and they wound up turning the ball over the downs.
Tinora would strike again, putting together a 10-play drive that ended with a short scoring run by Dachenhaus with 59 seconds left in the half. Unfortunately, the Scots would then quickly fumble the ball to set up a Tinora field goal on the final play of the second quarter to make it 23-0 at the break.
The Rams would then add a 29-yard scoring pass from Dominic Graziani to Grady Gustwiller in the third quarter and a 25-yard scoring run by Dachenhaus in the fourth to lead 37-0 before Highland was able to get on the board with a 52-yard run by Dane Nauman midway through the final quarter.
Nauman finished with 102 yards in the game, while Church completed five passes for 30 yards. Gavin Hankins caught a pair of passes for 13 yards.
“I’m proud of the year the kids had,” said Stover. “They had a great year through all the adversity and I want to make sure they understand they put work in to have the season they had. And we have to get back to work now. We’ve got to move forward again.”
After this year, the coach hopes that improved health plays a role in his team moving forward.
“We’ll work,” he said. “That’s not going to be a question. Once again, we’ll have to work in the right areas to make sure we’re getting better in the correct areas so we can prevent some of these injuries. I’d like to have some pulled hamstrings or something instead of broken arms, wrists, thumbs and torn ACLs. But there’s no excuses. We should have got the job done tonight. We’ll get back to work at it after we get a little bit of a break there.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS