June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Highland is not half bad


Assistant Sports Editor

GRANGER TWP. — Some members of Highland’s football team felt like all they had to do was show up Friday night.

It can be argued that the Hornets didn’t for a half, but much better focus, intensity and execution over the final two periods still resulted in a 29-7 non-league victory over Buckeye.

Highland (2-0), which trounced the Bucks (0-2) 31-0 a year ago and was coming off an impressive opening-week win over Rocky River, found itself down 7-6 at intermission, but put up 23 unanswered points in a dominating second-half performance.

“We didn’t come out ready,” senior quarterback Nick Knerem said. “We kind of took them for granted. I think some of us felt like we were going to be able to steamroll them.”

The Hornets were the ones getting steamrolled at halftime, at which time Buckeye held a 203-106 edge in total offense — 75 of Highland’s yards came on three plays — and a 37-17 advantage in plays, the latter helping the Bucks control the ball for almost 18 of the game’s first 24 minutes.

“That’s the way we’re capable of playing,” Buckeye coach Billy Burke said. “That’s our game: Grind the ball and try to keep possession. That’s what we did in the first half. It’s too bad the game wasn’t called at halftime.”

The second half was all Highland, particularly the third period, when the Hornets scored two touchdowns and recorded a 32-yard Eric Duale field goal on their three possessions.

“It was more of a mindset,” said Knerem, who completed 6-of-12 passes for 168 yards, including a beautiful 57-yard scoring strike to Jarrod Swick that put Highland up 20-7 midway through the third period.

In that pivotal quarter, the Hornets ran 20 plays to Buckeye’s 10, held a 201-71 edge in total offense — 56 of the Bucks’ yards came on their last two plays of the period — and racked up a 9-2 edge in first downs.

“Buckeye came out and played a real good half. It was more what they did,” said Highland coach Tom Lombardo, who disagreed with Knerem’s belief that the Hornets took their foe lightly. “We put it to our kids at halftime: ‘We’re a senior-laden team. What are you guys made of? Show us.’”

The Hornets showed plenty by the time the night was done.

Chris Snook, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound running back, finished the night with 10 carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns, while Swick caught three passes for 110 yards and tight end Tyler Houska grabbed two for 46.

When Snook cramped up and was limited to mostly defense in the second half, Ben Brown (8 carries, 66 yards, TD) and Aaron Maslowski (8-56) stepped up in fine fashion for Highland, which blanked the Bucks over the final two periods behind a defense led by Snook, Houska and defensive end Tyler Phillips.

“Once we went up, they might not have had the firepower to come back from a couple scores down,” Lombardo said.

That was more than evident, as the Bucks’ spread offense is designed mainly to create running lanes for guys like Cory Reisner (23 carries, 104 yards, TD), Ryan McCormick (12-119) and quarterback Mike Kelly (12-42). Kelly attempted just 12 passes on the night, completing five for a paltry 48 yards.

“We’re thin,” said Burke, whose team starts the game with nine guys playing both ways before beginning to substitute. “Our ones are as tough as they come. We’ve just got guys who aren’t old enough or don’t have enough experience or aren’t strong enough backing them up.”

Noland may be reached at rickn@ohio.net or 330-721-4061.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.