The Highland High School football team lost to Columbus Junction, 49-27, this past Friday after struggling to contain the Wildcats on fourth down throughout the game.
The Huskies (0-3) started strong with senior Owen Donovan’s 95-yard kick return for a touchdown in the opening seconds. Donovan then kicked a successful extra point. 7-0, right off the bat.
Columbus Junction’s first possession wasn’t as successful. Thanks to stops by Brenton Bonebrake and Eli Slaymaker, the Wildcats were held to a three-and-out.
The Huskies scored on their second possession, too, thanks to a five-yard run from Donovan for a successful fourth-down conversion, followed by a 15-yard carry from Bonebrake and a Wildcats offsides penalty to put Highland on the 2-yard line. Quarterback Connor Grinstead snuck through for a touchdown and a 14-0 Highland lead.
Things got tougher from there.
While the Wildcats scored on their next two possessions, the Huskies didn’t find the end zone again until the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats only needed four snaps to score their first touchdown, thanks to a 58-yard touchdown rush from Will Schaub, completed on fourth down. When the Huskies got the ball again, they were plagued by penalties.
A tackle for loss, followed by two consecutive false start flags and an incomplete pass forced the Huskies to punt from their own red zone on fourth-and-21. Despite losing 25 yards due to penalties, the Wildcats still scored off that possession, too, and tied the game, 14-14, with a two-point conversion.
Throughout the game, Columbus Junction converted on fourth down, doing so six times, including once on fourth-and-27 in the third quarter and on fourth-and-14 with a fake punt in the fourth quarter.
Highland only converted the one fourth down in the first quarter. They turned the ball over on downs twice.
In the third quarter, Jaden Miller tackled Donovan for a loss of one yard and, on the next snap, Kaden Amigon sacked Grinstead for a loss of 10 yards. The Huskies punted on fourth-and-21, which Triston Miller ran in for a 52-yard touchdown return.
Highland head coach Scott Morel said his team struggled to sustain its blocks, which gave Columbus Junction the room it needed to wiggle out of tough fourth-and-long situations.
“We always say, it’s just the little things,” he said. “Miss a tackle here, or miss an assignment there, or miss a gap here — those are the things we missed. It’s a matter of executing better.”
Sophomore Abbi Stransky made her varsity quarterback debut with six seconds left in the game, attempting two passes but completing neither.
Grinstead completed one 15-yard pass to Yahir Jimenez and the Columbus Junction quarterbacks, Jeff Hoback and Tucker Bright, completed three passes for a total of 60 yards.
Highland’s next game will be against North Cedar on Homecoming Night Friday in Riverside.