By Anthony Jones
After trailing by 13 points and not having possession with 1:47 left to play, Highland’s epic comeback rally all came down to one last yard and one last second. With all of the momentum in the world, the Bulldogs seemed set to take down their rivals on the decisive play. But Triad’s defense had different ideas.
Attempting a quarterback dive up the middle, Triad’s defensive tackles Caden Little and Jaylun Nelson rebuffed Brent Wuebbel’s first effort for the end zone. That delay offered just enough time as defensive end Bret Beckmann came flying around the line and wrapped up the quarterback in the backfield to save the day.
“I just saw the line kind of stuffed up, so I just slid behind them. I saw the ball and went after it and took him down,“ Beckmann, a junior, said of the game winning play.
Going back to the start of the game, Triad never trailed. After a nice kickoff return to their own 43 yard line, the game’s opening drive started off strong for the Knights.
Several nice runs, including a 16 yard keeper by quarterback Nic Funk drove the offense into Bulldog territory. The drive stalled out with a fourth and 2 from the Highland 14, where Triad trotted out field goal kicker Jake Ellis. Giving his team a 3-0 advantage, the attempt was golden.
Responding with a nice drive of their own, the visitors marched down field. A long 25 yard rush from halfback Travis Porter advanced the team all the way to the Triad 32 yard line. The drive would end two plays later however, as Tristan Darby caused a fumble after a short catch and run, which was picked up by sophomore Carter Vandever.
Another methodical drive, which stretched into the second quarter, ensued. After being faced with a third and long near midfield, Funk found an open Collin Qualls in the flat who would pick up 30 yards. An eight yard score shortly after from Jason Randoll ended the drive and another Ellis boot made the score 10-0.
Feeling the need to step up, Wubbels led a dominant drive subsequently that took two minutes in real time. After keeping the ball for a 25 yard keeper, the junior quarterback launched a 44 yard touchdown pass to Cade Altadonna just a few plays later. A missed extra point kick kept the score at 10-6.
A big play came on the following drive as Triad was faced with a fourth and four from Highland’s 31 yard line. Funk kept the ball and after running over two defenders at once, picked up the first down. Their fourth down gamble proved fruitful a few snaps later as fullback Jackson Buck ran in for a 15 yard score.
In what would be only the sixth and final drive of the first half, the Bulldogs trailed 17-6. But they would have some fourth down magic of their own as they marched down field.
Picking up a fourth and 10, Porter caught a screen pass from Wuebbels for exactly 10 yards. Then later on the drive with 4.7 seconds left in the half from the Triad 13 yard line, he picked up another fourth down as he tucked it and ran for a touchdown. The following two point try failed as Triad’s defense swarmed the ball carrier in the backfield.
The first punt of the game came on the first drive of the first half as Triad’s defense stood tall, including a big sack from linebacker Max Skees. Triad started with great field position from their rival’s 25 yard line, as the punt would be downed after netting a single yard.
Funk finished Triad’s fourth drive of the game with a one yard carry that found paydirt shortly after. Ellis grew the lead to 24-12 with yet another successful point after try.
After a march downfield, Highland’s drive was abruptly ended by safety Koen Rodebush who intercepted a deep pass just out of the reach of a Bulldog’s receiver. Rodebush returned the interception for 20 yards, setting up his offense from their own 40 yard line.
Triad’s offense was stopped for the first time all game and disaster seemed to strike as the snap for the punt went soaring over Roger Wolf’s head. The senior kept cool however and managed to boot the ball away, but the Bulldogs still took over at the Triad 34 yard line.
Moving the ball all the way to Triad’s 6 yard line, Highland’s drive fizzled out after a failed fourth time conversion. Qualls quickly flipped the field as he ran downfield for a 74 yard pickup. After the drive stretched into the fourth quarter, Qualls punched the ball in himself from 11 yards out and another point after try grew the lead to 31-12 with 11:15 remaining in the contest.
Triad’s defense kept the momentum rolling on the following drive, as Rodebush once again intercepted a deep ball from Wuebbels. A quick stop of their own from Highland allowed them to take over from the Knight’s 22 yard line shortly afterwards. The Bulldogs made the most of their opportunity as their quarterback rushed for a five yard carry shortly, but their two point try failed, making a total of five points that they missed on extra points.
A failed onsides kick ensued, but the Bulldogs wouldn’t have to wait long to get the ball back as Wuebbels recovered a Triad fumble shortly into the next drive. A series of quick turnovers followed though, as Highland turned the ball over on downs and Triad fumbled the ball right back as Adam Korte picked the ball up.
Despite several drops plaguing their drive, Highland was able to march downfield again and Wuebbels kept the ball for a 20 yard touchdown rush with 32.8 seconds left to play. Porter rushed in the following point after try to cut the deficit to 5 points.
Suddenly after recovering the subsequent onsides kick at the Triad 38 yard line, the Bulldogs were threatening to win. On the first play of the drive, Wuebbels launched a pass that bounced off a Triad defender’s hands into a receiver’s hands. But once again, Highland committed another big drop.
Several plays later, Wuebbels would find an open Altadonna over the middle who quickly bounced outside and looked set to score before Rodebush made another critical play and pushed him out of bounds with one second left in the game at the one yard line, where Triad would ultimately stand tall for the win.
“I’m happy we came out with a win and we’re 4-1. And boy, it could have been a very different way there. I didn’t see the last play, I just let the crowd let me know as I was sitting there talking to anybody above that would listen to me and allow us to get to 4-1. Somebody was listening,” Triad’s Head Coach Paul Bassler.
Bassler also spoke on the twins formation the Knight’s offense used throughout the game that led to a lot of offensive success, “We saw it on film when they played against Jerseyville and we just took advantage. They never really adjusted. I felt like they would and I’d have to make a move at a time, but it never happened. Even late in the game when Qualls broke that big long one, it was the same play being run the whole game.“
The defensive side of the ball also had a strong showing for the game in Bassler’s mind, “They played very well. We were very nervous about our defense and the adjustments that we were going to make and try to get them free. Our matchups, I thought Roger Wolf played outstanding on Altadonna all night long. They did a very great job and we just didn’t offensively help them out there at the end. The score doesn’t really dictate how well they played.“
Next week, Triad travels to take on a 5-0 Mascoutah team that’s lowest score this season is 42 points. They are quarterbacked by Chase Hanson, who is coming off an 8 touchdown performance and averages 6 touchdowns a game so far this year.
“Their quarterback is just dynamic, he is probably the best player in the conference. We’ll be very worried about him and we’ll have to come up with a plan to keep him corralled. He is a great player and the best way is to keep him on the bench. Hopefully we can grind it out offensively and keep it away from him,” Triad’s Head Coach said of Hanson.