By Mark Jurgena
They came so close….
With 2:41 left in the 4th quarter, Highland’s Travis Porter scored on a one-yard TD run, his third rushing TD of the game, to cut the deficit to eight points with 2:41 to play. However, Edwardsville got possession of the kickoff and the Class 8A Tigers escaped Highland and their Class 5A Bulldogs with a 41-33 victory on September 3rd.
Highland coach Jim Warnecke was clearly proud of his charges during a Sunday night interview, but he took a much more philosophical approach to Friday night’s events.
“Our mentality, the kids bought into it really well…our mentality is just get better each week,” he said. “It’s a faceless opponent. The biggest thing we’re trying to do is fix our mistakes and be a better three units, offense, defense, and special teams each week. I thought we had good focus on that. They didn’t get caught up in the Edwardsville hype.”
The Tigers packed the box with a seven-man front daring the Dogs to beat them with their passing game. Veteran QB Brent Wuebbles and his experienced receiver corps nearly accomplished that feat.
Wuebbles utilized the short passing game to near perfection as he went 21-35 for 323 yards and a touchdown. Seven different Dogs caught passes in the game.
“I thought Wuebbles played a solid game,” said Warnecke. “He had pressure in his face all night long. He made some big-time throws. He didn’t get a whole lot of yards on the ground but that wasn’t the plan the way they were playing us defensively. I’m proud of him.”
Cade Altadonna led HHS with eight catches for 96 yards. James Beard and Brode Lewis each had four catches for a combined 106 yards. Gabe Marti caught two balls for 72 yards and a TD. Finally, Adam Korte, Jarrett Kruse, and Cameron Willis had one catch each.
“I thought we had really good balance early on,” Warnecke said. “Then we got to chasing a two-score deficit later on in the game and that got us out of our balance a little bit. I wish we could’ve gone back to a little more run because we were being effective on it. I thought overall offensively we were clicking like I’d envisioned us being before the season.”
The Dogs still had an almost perfectly balanced night on offense. In addition to their 35 pass attempts, they rushed the ball 31 times.
Travis Porter had 14 carries for 81 yards while Wuebbles had 15 carries for 57 yards. Included in Wuebbles statline are negative yards from sacks by the Tigers. Beard had the other two carries.
In addition to his late TD, Porter added two and four-yard TD runs as well.
“I’ll tell you what he’s not an overly big kid,” said Warnecke. “But great vision, great at reading his blocks…patient…something you can’t teach a kid. He’s a scrapper man, he can smell the end zone.”
Defensively the Dogs came up with a big turnover near the end of the half to go into the locker room only down 27-21.
Cameron Willis came up with an interception and tacked on a 35-yard return to set up a five yard TD run by Wuebbles with 2:10 remaining before half. The Joey Geromiller kick was good and the Dogs were down six.
The defense was led in tackles by Brenden Gelly with ten solos and three assists. Willis had seven solos and five assists while Adam Korte had five tackles and four assists. Sky Freeman registered five solos and three assists.
The Dogs fell to 0-2 on the young season after losses to powerhouse schools in larger classes. This Friday they travel to southern Illinois for another solid test with another annual playoff team, the Marion Wildcats.
Despite the slow start, Warnecke is encouraged by what his team has done so far and what’s ahead in the fall season of 2021.
“It’s probably one of the best I’ve felt after a loss in my career,” began Warnecke. “The fact remains we’re still 0-2 and searching for that win. I think this helped our confidence more than hurt it. We’re desperate. Desperation is good I always say. We’re a desperate team looking to find a win against a Marion team that’s got 17 returning starters, that’s 2-0, and we’re playing at their place for our first away game.
“I think if we just focus on getting better, that’s the formula for success.”