By ROB HAMILTON
Some big special teams plays proved to be the decisive factor in Highland’s 27-19 win at Mount Gilead Friday night, which netted the Scots a share of the Blue Division crown.
The Scots, who got two field goals from Satchel Denton and a kick return touchdown from Alex Wright, finished 6-1 in the league (6-4 overall), which tied them with Fredericktown. Highland, who beat the Freddies 49-14 when those teams met earlier in the season, earned their first Blue Division crown and first Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference title since 2007, when they won the Red Division.
“This is a special group of kids,” said head coach Chad Carpenter. “The seniors really worked hard to put us in position. It’s special — just one of those things I want to enjoy.”
The third quarter proved to be pivotal for the Scots, as they were able to get a huge play just when it looked like the momentum had swung MG’s way. Leading 14-13 at the half, Highland returned the kickoff to midfield and advanced all the way to the Indian three on runs by Jared Limings and Dakota Bunting. However, a holding call pushed them back to the 14 and they eventually had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Denton to take a four-point lead.
After it looked like the Scots would then get a three-and-out, the Indians fooled them with a fake punt which Deondre Cook took for a 36-yard gain to the Scot 39. Cook would then connect with Mason Mollohan for 10 yards and a personal foul against Highland moved the ball to the 14. A holding call negated a touchdown pass from Cook to Tyler Bland, but on the next play, Cook hit Alex Ferguson for a 37-yard touchdown to put the Indians in front 19-17.
“We had some kids hurt and in new positions,” said MG coach Jason Ross, whose team finished 4-6, 3-4 in conference play. “I’m proud of them and their ability to adjust. Alex Ferguson made some good plays for us and he hadn’t played much on offense this year.”
That lead would only stand for 17 seconds, though, as Wright took the ensuing kickoff 78 yards for six points. Denton added the extra point to give the Scots a 24-19 advantage. Carpenter noted that his team showed a lot of resilience on their way to closing their season with a win, especially as they were playing without starting quarterback Max Schreiber, which altered their offensive gameplan.
“We overcame a lot of obstacles,” he said. “The kids kept fighting and, across the board, we made enough plays to win it.”
Highland would add a 33-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to take a 27-19 lead. After both teams traded punts, MG had one final shot to potentially send the game to overtime. After recovering a punt on their 46-yard line, Cook ran for three yards and then hit Bland for 14 down to the Scot 39. He then completed passes to Ferguson for 15, Bland for 10 and Jonah Barnett for two more to get to the 12.
A sack pushed the Indians back to the 24. On the next play, the senior quarterback seemingly hit Bland for a touchdown, but the officials ruled that the ball hit the ground. A final attempt sailed long to ensure victory for the Scots.
“They’re a good team,” said Ross of the Scots. “I couldn’t be prouder of our guys. They battled until the very end. Highland played and coached a great game. It was a game of momentum swings. They kind of got the last one, but our kids played their rear ends off.”
MG opened the game with a very impressive drive, going 80 yards in 12 plays and taking 7:25 off the clock. While Cook hit Ferguson for a big 32-yard catch on fourth-and-14 from the Scot 36, most of the work happened on the ground. Cook had a 22-yard run, while Barnett carried the ball the final eight yards. Jacob Robinson’s extra point staked the Indians to an early 7-0 lead.
However, the Scots wouldn’t waste any time responding, getting a 29-yard run from Andrew Stillwell to move to the Indian 34. Two plays later, Wright ran for a 29-yard score and Denton added the point after to tie the game.
The Scots would take their first lead in the second quarter. Taking the ball on their 47 at the 7:08 mark, Highland went the distance in eight plays, all on the ground. Limings took a handoff for 15 yards for the biggest play of the drive and Wright finished it off with a nine-yard touchdown.
Trailing 14-7, MG responded. Bland took the kick to the Scot 48 and Cook immediately ran for 12 yards. However, the team then went backwards and was forced to punt on a fourth-and-25. The Scots roughed the kicker on that play, though, to give the Indians a new lease on life. Cook would then hit Ferguson for 26 yards and Anthony Clark eventually scored on a three-yard run. The PAT was blocked, keeping the Indians behind going into the half by one point.
“We played a very tough game,” said Carpenter. “Hats off to Mount Gilead; they gave us everything we could handle and it went down to the end.”
After watching the game and his team’s season end, Ross noted that the future is bright for the Indians, in no small part due to the foundation his seniors set.
“We’ve got some good classes coming up, in talent as well as work ethic,” he said. “I told the seniors they laid a good foundation to build off of.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS