GRANGER TWP. — No matter how physical, nerve-racking and bizarre Friday night was, the 40-yard line at Highland Stadium was a watery wonderland for the Hornets football team when Bruce Kinsey kneeled the final ticks off the clock.
Relief morphed into a rowdy celebration instantly, as Highland held on for dear life to defeat archrival Wadsworth 24-23 in Suburban League play.
The Hornets escaped after Grizzlies kicker Aden Campbell missed an extra point with 2:22 left, Collin Paich recovered the onside kick after an hour-long lightning delay and running back Alex Harris ended the madness by converting on third-and-5.
It led to coach Tom Lombardo busting out a “four-and-oh, four-and-oh” chant following his postgame speech and the team singing the alma mater with extra pep.
Highland (4-0, 1-0) led 24-7 with 3:22 left in the third quarter after Harris (27 carries, 90 yards) bowled over for his second touchdown.
The Hornets were riding a wave of momentum after stuffing Wadsworth on the Highland 7-yard line minutes earlier and were shutting down bruising Grizzlies running back Martice Jackson (16 carries, 125 yards; 5 carries, 8 yards in the first half).
It was a struggle for the Hornets from that point.
Wadsworth (3-1, 0-1) clawed its way back behind a passing game that was virtually non-existent the first three weeks, using rollouts with extra protection from its running backs. Adam Dennison (11-for-16 passing, 174 yards) never wavered in the pocket and connected with Austin White, Ryan Looser and Hunter Williams for clutch first downs.
A 15-yard strike from Dennison to White on fourth-and-14 allowed Jackson to find paydirt from 12 yards to make it 24-14. A 35-yard Campbell field goal with 6:33 remaining made it 24-17 as the Wadsworth defense held Highland to one first down over a 14-minute stretch.
Even so, odds were still against the Grizzlies when they received the ball on their own 17 following a Bobby Goff punt with 3:23 left.
Then, at the most opportune moment, Jackson put the jam-packed Highland crowd into shock.
Running an isolation play out of the I-formation that had been completely stifled to that point, Jackson found a seam and sprinted 62 yards to what could have been the biggest touchdown of his career. Unfortunately for Wadsworth, the normally steady Campbell, who leads Medina County in field goals, pushed his extra-point attempt just right of the upright.
The officials then delayed the game as Campbell was lining up for the onside kick. Once play resumed, the recovery by Paich and a halfback trap by Harris with rain coming down in sheets was all that was left.
Considering how well the first 33 minutes went for Highland, the ending was hard to fathom.
Highland’s inexperienced offensive line had its way with Wadsworth for the majority of the night, as the Hornets compiled 279 yards by halftime.
Wideouts Cory Moncol (6 receptions, 65 yards) and Coltin Kinsey (4, 39) were open consistently against the Grizzlies’ prevent coverage, and reigning Gazette MVP Bruce Kinsey (12-for-18 passing, 131 yards; 23 carries, 180 yards) was finding huge holes by keeping the ball on zone read options.
Though Highland was stuffed cold on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on its opening possession, it never lost steam early on. Bruce Kinsey scrambled right to the pylon after a pass play broke down to make it 7-0, and Harris juked three defenders video-game style to push the ante to 14-0 with 3:28 left in the second quarter.
Wadsworth responded 33 seconds later when wide receiver Mark Casalinova used every inch of his 6-foot frame to snare a pass over the middle and race 67 yards to the house. The Hornets marched, but were stuffed again inside the 2 and forced to settle for a 29-yard Luke Allen field goal right before the half.
Undeterred, the Grizzlies found new life when White stripped Moncol on the Highland 15 early in the third quarter. Cyler Caldwell recovered and Wadsworth had a golden opportunity.
The Highland defense, which received sacks from Nick Haas and James Friedl and an interception on a Hail Mary from Coltin Kinsey, would have none of it.
After failing to convert on third down, Wadsworth rushed to the line in an attempt to catch the Hornets off-guard, but Dennison was stonewalled at the line of scrimmage and a momentum swing was in full motion.
Highland responded almost immediately, as Kinsey lugged the ball four times for 76 yards on read options up the gut. That led to Harris’ second TD, setting the stage for the epic Wadsworth comeback attempt that fell just short.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.
Highland 24, Wadsworth 23
WADSWORTH 0 7 0 16 — 23
HIGHLAND 7 10 7 0 — 24
H — Bruce Kinsey 4 run (Luke Allen kick), 11:22.
H — Alex Harris 17 run (Allen kick), 3:48.
W — Mark Casalinova 67 pass from Adam Dennison (Aden Campbell kick), 3:15.
H — Allen 29 field goal, 0:18
H — Harris 1 run (Allen kick), 3:22.
W — Martice Jackson 12 run (Campbell kick), 11:02.
W — Campbell 35 field goal, 6:33.
W — Jackson 62 run (kick failed), 2:22.