WESTFIELD TWP. — Robby Buckwald didn’t catch the Hail Mary this time.
The Highland football team survived a huge upset Friday, grinding its way to two clock-burning drives and blocking an extra point to hold off Cloverleaf 21-20 in Suburban League action.
While the Hornets (7-3, 5-2) tied for second place in the final SL standings and snapped a four-game losing streak to the Colts (3-7, 0-7), it does not appear they will make the Division II, Region 6 playoffs because No. 8 Mansfield Madison crushed Mansfield Senior 34-0 and No. 7 Perrysburg downed Maumee 55-26.
According to joeeitel.com, Highland finished one spot behind Perrysburg for the eighth and final berth. The official Ohio High School Athletic Association rankings will be released Sunday.
“Our motto this week was, ‘Finish,”’ Hornets coach Tom Lombardo said. “We were going to do whatever it was going to take, and we finished. I’m real proud of the kids because four weeks ago we challenged them that every game is a playoff game. This was our playoffs. We won four, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Barely coming out of a full-house backfield in the fourth quarter, Highland used two long scoring drives to put the game away. The first was a 15-play, 86-yard march capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by quarterback Bruce Kinsey (25 carries, 84 yards; 7-for-18 passing, 86 yards, 2 INTs), while the second covered 15 plays, 60 yards and ran the clock down to 1:07 before the Hornets turned the ball over on downs.
“We just kept our feet moving and kept pushing the ball,” Hornets 275-pound right tackle David Myatt said. “That’s what our job is. It’s what we love to do as offensive linemen.”
Both drives were extended by Colts penalties in crucial moments.
On what ended up being Highland’s game-winning scoring drive, Cloverleaf was called for pass interference after Kinsey attempted to hit Cory Moncol on a third-and-5 hitch route. Just three plays later, the Colts were again called for pass interference against Moncol in the end zone.
The latter call gave Highland first-and-goal from the Cloverleaf 9-yard line. Kinsey faked a belly to Adam Kluk (17 carries, 59 yards, TD) and scored two plays later.
Despite the blunders, the Colts received a major shot in the arm when cornerback Austin Smith came up with his third turnover of the night, intercepting Kinsey on the Hornets 31 and racing in for a TD.
Cloverleaf’s momentum reached its peak when Devin Cunningham, who had just 10 touches all game, trucked a defender and broke two more arm tackles for a scintillating 21-yard TD with 9:02 left.
Unfortunately for the Colts, the extra-point snap was high and Robby Buckwald (10 receptions, 84 yards), who played brilliantly in his first game in seven weeks, had his kick blocked.
That set the stage for Highland to run out most of the clock.
“Give our kids credit. We played some smart ball and good defense,” Lombardo said. “A couple penalties and breaks went our way.”
The Hornets faced third-and-5 from the Cloverleaf 48 with 4:53 remaining. The snap to punter Kent Masters dribbled at his feet, but he picked it up and got the boot off just before three defenders closed in.
However, the Colts were called for running into the kicker to give Highland yet another chance.
“It was a bang-bang call that just didn’t go our way,” Cloverleaf coach Bob Lake said. “The official I asked about that said he made the call after the ball was kicked. I’m not going to speculate, but I’ve seen it called different.”
Amazingly, Cloverleaf wasn’t done shooting itself in the foot.
Just 2 minutes later, Highland had a fourth-and-5 from the Cloverleaf 38 and elected to go for it. Buckwald attempted to time up the snap and blitz, but the Hornets line didn’t flinch and the Colts were called for enproachment.
Highland drove to the Cloverleaf 15 before Kinsey’s fourth-down run was stopped shy on the 13 with 1:07 left.
Without a timeout, quick passing by Garrison Flora (21-for-41, 162 yards) helped the Colts penetrate Highland territory. The game ended when Flora’s Hail Mary into double coverage to Buckwald, who caught a TD pass as time expired to stun the Hornets 41-35 last season, fell incomplete at the 20.
“We just manned up,” said Hornets defensive tackle Joe Buttita, who nearly intercepted a screen pass during the drive. “We were down on ourselves at first, but we got hyped and we got into it.”
Highland jumped to a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter behind TD runs from Kluk and sophomore slot receiver Tanner Houska (8 carries, 73 yards), who gave Cloverleaf fits running jet sweeps. The Colts answered on the 31-yard interception return by Smith.
Shortly thereafter, Smith came up big again with a fumble recovery when Kinsey dropped a shotgun snap, leading to a beautiful 14-yard Flora TD pass to Buckwald, who grabbed the ball despite heavy coverage from safety Collin Paich.
That was pretty much the last offensive highlight for the Colts. After completing 16-for-23 passes for 112 yards in the first half, Flora was 5-for-18 for 50 yards the rest of the way.
Cloverleaf never established Cunningham, either, as the junior running back had just two carries in the second half, while Buckwald was held without a reception over the final 25:27 of the game.
“We haven’t beat them in four years, so it feels good,” Myatt said. “We’ve wanted this game really bad all year long.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Highland 21, Cloverleaf 20
HIGHLAND 7 7 7 0 — 21
CLOVERLEAF 0 14 0 6 — 20
H — Adam Kluk 5 run (Joe Simonis kick), 2:27.
H — Tanner Houska 5 run (Simonis kick), 7:09.
C — Austin Smith 31 interception return (Robby Buckwald kick), 4:37.
C — Buckwald 14 pass from Garrison Flora (Buckwald kick), 1:27.
H — Bruce Kinsey 4 run (Simonis kick), 0:37.1.
C — Devin Cunningham 21 run (kick blocked), 9:02.