By RICK NOLAND
Assistant Sports Editor
GRANGER TWP. â€” Some members of Highlandâ€™s football team felt like all they had to do was show up Friday night.
It can be argued that the Hornets didnâ€™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.
â€œWe didnâ€™t come out ready,â€ senior quarterback Nick Knerem said. â€œWe kind of took them for granted. I think some of us felt like we were going to be able to steamroll them.â€
The Hornets were the ones getting steamrolled at halftime, at which time Buckeye held a 203-106 edge in total offense â€” 75 of Highlandâ€™s yards came on three plays â€” and a 37-17 advantage in plays, the latter helping the Bucks control the ball for almost 18 of the gameâ€™s first 24 minutes.
â€œThatâ€™s the way weâ€™re capable of playing,â€ Buckeye coach Billy Burke said. â€œThatâ€™s our game: Grind the ball and try to keep possession. Thatâ€™s what we did in the first half. Itâ€™s too bad the game wasnâ€™t called at halftime.â€
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.
â€œIt was more of a mindset,â€ 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 Buckeyeâ€™s 10, held a 201-71 edge in total offense â€” 56 of the Bucksâ€™ yards came on their last two plays of the period â€” and racked up a 9-2 edge in first downs.
â€œBuckeye came out and played a real good half. It was more what they did,â€ said Highland coach Tom Lombardo, who disagreed with Kneremâ€™s belief that the Hornets took their foe lightly. â€œWe put it to our kids at halftime: â€˜Weâ€™re a senior-laden team. What are you guys made of? Show us.â€™â€
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.
â€œOnce we went up, they might not have had the firepower to come back from a couple scores down,â€ Lombardo said.
That was more than evident, as the Bucksâ€™ 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.
â€œWeâ€™re thin,â€ said Burke, whose team starts the game with nine guys playing both ways before beginning to substitute. â€œOur ones are as tough as they come. Weâ€™ve just got guys who arenâ€™t old enough or donâ€™t have enough experience or arenâ€™t strong enough backing them up.â€
Noland may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4061.