Highland senior running back Hunter Frey provided the offensive punch for the Highland football team and the defense led by senior lineman Chase Pacatte came up with two crucial fourth-down stops and a fourth-quarter interception return as the Bulldogs toppled Mount Vernon, 35-14, in a Class 5A first-round playoff game.
Third-seeded Highland (9-1) will play host to No. 6 seed Metamora next weekend in a second-round Class 5A matchup.
Mount Vernon’s season is over at 6-4.
Frey paced Highland with two touchdowns with more than 100 yards rushing.
“We made our adjustments and our O-line figured out what their defense was and we made our adjustments and the O-line picked up what they needed to and created everything,” Frey said.
Mount Vernon struck first thanks to a 7-yard keeper run off left tackle for a touchdown by quarterback Malaki Mays, making it 7-0 at 8:42 of the first quarter.
Highland’s offense stalled on its only drive of the first quarter but, early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs found the end zone with Tyson Rakers twisting 1-yard run over the Mount Vernon goal line to cap a 6-play, 54-yard drive.
Then in the final minute of the first half, Frey finished off a seven-play, 65-yard Bulldogs march with a 4-yard touchdown run putting the Bulldogs ahead 14-7.
After a slow start, Highland’s offensive line led by senior Gavin Buhmann, and Ashton Zobrist hammered on the Rams’ defensive front, giving Frey and Rakers plenty of holes to run through.
“The way we fight, you just can’t take that away from us,” Buhmann said. “We just knew we were playing for something bigger than a conference championship and we know we’re trying to get to the big state (championship) and we’re just trying to keep getting better every week until we get there.”
The Bulldogs’ offense got the ball to start the third quarter and scored again in just eight plays as Blake Gelly connected with Nick Judge on a 1-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-7 with 8:30 left in the third quarter.
Twelve seconds later, Mount Vernon responded as the Rams standout senior running back Devontae Nesbit took the Bulldogs kickoff 65 yards to the endzone for a score, shaving the lead to 21-14.
Highland extended the head to 28-14 on Frey’s second touchdown of the day from three yards out.
That allowed the Bulldogs defense to close out the day as Highland stopped the Rams twice on fourth down in the fourth quarter. Pacatte also sacked Mays on fourth and 14 to kill play to kill another Mount Vernon drive.
“We just had to stop them from going outside and going up the middle and they couldn’t pass for anything and they just kept throwing the ball and we stopped them every time.,” Pacatte said.
Highland’s defense got in on the act as well with a 35-yard pick-6 by Dalton Ballint with 1:04 left up the scoring.
“That pick 6 was pretty cool, man,” Pacatte said. “You don’t see those very often.”
A strong all-around performance was a welcome sight for Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke as the Bulldogs started the playoffs with a solid all-around showing.
“I think there was a lot of responding by our boys out there today,” Warnecke said. “Up front, we were solid tonight and the first drive things looked kind of bleak but we’re confident as a defense and we the strength of our team is our team is our d-line and it has been all year and they tightened up and they responded and two me the two biggest plays of the game were the fourth down stops that our defense made on fourth and short.”
It was a hard end for Mount Vernon, which won its last six straight games to qualify for the playoffs.
“We did some uncharacteristic things at the end that we had to try to get back into it and extended the score but they beat us and that’s the bottom line,” Mt. Vernon coach Dan Mings said. “To the victors go the spoils.”