NORTH ROYALTON — The bears poked at the hive just one time. That was all it took.
The Highland football team came out buzzing Friday, then responded to a big play on North Royalton’s first possession by continuing to sting and sting on its way to a 56-14 rout in non-league play.
After the Hornets (3-0) took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard plunge by running back Alex Harris, it looked like this might be a repeat of North Royalton’s thrilling 56-51 win last season when Austin Smith scampered 66 yards for a touchdown on the Bears’ first play from scrimmage.
Not so fast.
The quick-strike score only fired the Hornets up.
“We just wanted to keep improving,” coach Tom Lombardo said. “We wanted to prove our physical play. I think we did that. We established the run and played very good defense. I couldn’t find much fault with it.”
Behind Harris (28 carries, 191 yards, 3 TDs) and Bruce Kinsey (12 carries, 84 yards; 10-for-16 passing, 155 yards, 4 total TDs), Highland blew the doors off and raced to a 42-14 halftime lead.
“What we talked about leading up to this week was how personal we took them scoring that many points against our defense last year,” Harris said. “That was just our focus, and we obviously answered and did a great job.”
The game got out of hand quickly in the second quarter, as Highland scored 28 points in a 7:52 span.
“We knew that’s what we needed to do,” Harris said. “We needed to get that momentum back. We scored and the ‘D’ just shut them down.”
A pair of turnovers and two three-and-outs by the Bears (1-2) during the period spelled doom.
“We played very physical, and that’s what we were trying to stress,” Lombardo said. “(The offensive line) did a really good job. They stayed on their blocks, and we kind of stressed that because we didn’t do it that well last week (against Olmsted Falls).”
When the first half finally came to a close, Highland had run a whopping 45 plays for 375 yards and 23 first downs to 14 plays for 65 yards and two first downs for North Royalton.
With the 66-yard touchdown for Smith (11 carries, 69 yards) factored out, the Bears had 13 plays for minus-1 yard at the half.
Smith had one more big play, returning a kickoff 97 yards following a Kinsey-to-Cory Moncol 32-yard scoring strike that made it 42-14.
That was the last gasp of air for the Bears, as Highland coasted the final 24 minutes. It tacked on a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter and continued to dominate on defense.
“That was hard to swallow,” Smith said. “They are a great team — I’m not saying we’re not a great team this year — but the run that we had last year (to the Division I regional semifinals) had everyone expecting we would do the same thing this year, and everyone is disappointed.”
The final tally for the North Royalton offense was 91 yards and five first downs, which included 42 yards and three first downs from backup running back Kevin Gilligan after the benches emptied.
Highland amassed 528 yards of offense (373 rushing) and an astounding 32 first downs.
“We wanted to show we have a very good running game,” Lombardo said. “I think we have a decent passing game, and when we put it together, hopefully we are going to give some teams some problems.”
Contact Chad Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Highland 56, North Royalton 14
HIGHLAND 14 28 14 0 — 56
NORTH ROYALTON 7 7 0 0 — 14
H — Alex Harris 1 run (Luke Allen kick), 7:33.
N — Austin Smith 66 run (Leo Nemetz kick), 7:15.
H — Bruce Kinsey 18 run (Allen kick), 1:25.
H — B. Kinsey 4 run (Allen kick), 9:51.
H — Harris 18 run (Allen kick), 3:57.
H — Harris 3 run (Allen kick), 2:03.
H — Cory Moncol 32 pass from B. Kinsey (Allen kick), 1:59.
N — Smith 97 kickoff return (Nemetz kick), 1:45.
H — Coltin Kinsey 16 pass from B. Kinsey (Allen kick), 3:49
H — Grant Wallace 31 run (Allen Kick), 0:29.