GRANGER TWP. — Highland football coach Tom Lombardo was elated with his team’s first-half defense and ability to close in the fourth quarter.
Olmsted Falls’ Tom DeLuca liked the fact his offense improved in the second half and his team never quit.
Put the two together and the Hornets were impressive in rolling to a 29-6 non-league victory Friday, but the feisty Bulldogs kept things semi-interesting until giving up a pair of late touchdowns.
Ultimately, the game was decided in the first half, which ended with Highland (2-0) up 17-0 behind a defense that forced seven three-and-outs in seven possessions and gave up just 23 yards total offense.
“Since I’ve been here, that’s the best half of defense we’ve played,” said Lombardo, who is in his seventh season with the Hornets. “We stressed three-and-outs. It was awesome.”
Of the 21 plays run by Olmsted Falls (0-2), the longest gain was a 6-yard pass from Nick Fritz to Brian Candow. The longest rush was 4 yards, which Logan Ballard managed on three occasions.
“We played real strong on defense,” said Highland end Nick Corvo, who was part of a unit that also got outstanding play from Nick Haas, Collin Paich and James Friedl. “We prepared hard. Our goal was to hit them and drive them back.
“We felt like we were ready for everything. But in the second half, they showed us we weren’t ready for everything.”
Olmsted Falls, whose deepest penetration in the first half was its own 37, finally got a first down with 5:42 left in the third period. Thirty-seven seconds later, the Bulldogs made their first appearance in Highland territory.
With Fritz throwing the ball with a lot more zip and sophomore Matt Garrett running hard, Olmsted Falls got on the board with 11:01 left in the game when Fritz snuck in from a yard out. The score was set up by a 31-yard pass to the 1 from Fritz to Kevin Meehan.
“We’ll take a positive out of that,” said DeLuca, whose team had seven first downs and 114 yards total offense in the second half. “We started out slow on offense, but we came out with some emotion in the second half. I challenged the kids at halftime and they came out and did a much better job. We’ve just got to start better.”
The Hornets had no trouble doing that. They went 65 yards in 11 plays on their first possession, with quarterback Bruce Kinsey rolling in from 9 yards out.
Highland made it a 14-0 game with 2:55 left in the second quarter when Kinsey (16-for-30, 216 yards) hit brother Coltin with a short pass that turned into a 41-yard TD when an Olmsted Falls defender missed a tackle, then got a 35-yard field goal from Luke Allen with no time left in the first half.
The Hornets spent most of the first two quarters in Bulldogs territory and racked up 10 first downs and 248 yards in that span, but they also left some points on the field, most notably when a wide-open Cory Moncol dropped what would have been a 29-yard TD pass.
It was the only mistake the 6-foot, 170-pound senior made, as he finished with 10 catches for 125 yards and added an interception he returned 50 yards.
“I don’t think we played very well offensively,” Lombardo said. “Our timing’s a little bit off, but we’re in a good place right now. It’s never easy. Each game brings its own challenge.”
Stifled much of the second half by an Olmsted Falls defense led by Noel Caraballo, Joe Atkinson, Meehan and Brian Kurz, who had an interception, the Hornets finally put the game on ice with a pair of late 3-yard TD runs by Corvo.
The 6-foot, 210-pound junior had just two carries in the first half, but wound up with 50 yards on 17 attempts as Highland threw just five passes after intermission.
“We wanted to drive them back on offense, too, just like we were doing on defense in the first half,” Corvo said. “With all the help I had from the line, it was great.”
Olmsted Falls, which lost two-way starter Tim May in the fourth quarter to what appeared to be a broken leg, got 25 yards rushing in the second half from Garrett, while Fritz overcame a slow start to finish 9-for-22 for 96 yards. The Bulldogs did not punt in the second half after doing so seven times in the first.
“I’m never disappointed with our kids,” DeLuca said. “They battled and gave us everything they had.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
Highland 29, Olmsted Falls 6
OLMSTED FALLS 0 0 0 6 — 6
HIGHLAND 7 10 0 12 — 29
H — Bruce Kinsey 9 run (Luke Allen kick), 5:58.
H — Coltin Kinsey 41 pass from B. Kinsey (Allen kick), 2:55.
H — Allen 35 field goal, :00.
O — Nick Fritz 1 run (run failed), 11:01.
H — Nick Corvo 3 run (run failed), 4:08.
H — Corvo 3 run (kick failed), 1:18.
Lombardo overjoyed with three-and-outs