BETHALTO — Advantage, Highland.
The two-time defending Mississippi Valley Conference champion Bulldogs showed Friday why they are still the team to beat in the six-team league.
They defeated previously unbeaten Civic Memorial, 35-27, and spoiled the Eagles’ homecoming festivities at Hauser Field.
“It was a great high school football game and both teams did a lot of good things,” Eagles’ coach Justin Winslow said. “The field position was pretty even, but we made three turnovers and they didn’t make any. You can’t turn it over like we did.”
While CM dropped to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference, Highland improved to 6-0 and 3-0. The Bulldogs meet arch-rival Triad, also 6-0, next week. Then CM goes to Troy the following week to meet the Knights. By Oct. 16, the Valley will have a champ.
“It’s one game at a time for us,” Highland coach Jim Warnecke said. “And it’s always easier to get on top than stay on top because everybody is gunning for you.
“Tonight, we had a total team effort and played very disciplined football.”
CM had its opportunity to shoot down Highland, but couldn't sustain early success. The Eagles led 7-0 after an impressive 16-play, 79-yard scoring drive in the first quarter. John Whitworth scored on an 8-yard run with 5:02 remaining and it appeared the Eagles were headed in the right direction.
Yet they never led after that. They were tied 14-14 in the second quarter and then trailed 21-14 by the end of the half.
The Bulldogs shot ahead 35-21 deep in the fourth quarter before the Eagles scored on the game’s final play. Neither team scored in the third quarter during the Valley Showdown, Part 1.
“We had a big crowd tonight and it was a great atmosphere here with our homecoming,” Winslow said. “It was about as close to a playoff game as you could make it and we had a good focus.”
Whitworth rushed 25 times for 153 yards to spark a diversified attack that accounted for 26 first downs. The 180-pound senior now has rambled for 1,053 yards this season, making him the first CM running back to surpass 1,000 yards since Joe Odom rushed for 1,188 yards in 1997.
A second Whitworth score, a 4-yard run late in the third quarter, was nullified by a penalty. Had it counted, the Eagles would have been tied with the Bulldogs 21-21 going into the final 12 minutes.
“We scored some points and it might have been our best game offensively,” Winslow said. “John, Zach Williams and Adam Hill had great games.”
Williams scored on a 1-yard run with 8:53 to play in the game as CM closed to within 28-21. Hill completed 23 of 37 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns. He hit David Lane for a 3-yard score with 6:06 to play in the first half. Hill then connected with Tim Klocke for a 16-yard score on the game’s final play.
Running back Tim Rakers and sophomore quarterback Garrett Marti spurred the Bulldogs, who were without top running back Andrew Winning. He’s rehabbing a torn ACL.
Rakers, a junior, ran 22 times for 132 yards and three TDs: 1, 2 and 12 yards. Marti sprinted for 121 yards and completed six passes for 81 yards and one touchdown before he was injured with 4:58 remaining on a running play inside the CM 5. Marti suffered a head injury and was taken by ambulance to Alton Memorial Hospital. There was no immediate report on his status.
“He got hit helmet-to-helmet when he was out of bounds,” Warnecke said. “It wasn’t a concussion, but a neck injury. I think it (going to hospital) was more of precautionary thing at this point."
While Highland and Triad clash next week for the MVC lead, it’ll be CM going to Waterloo. Then it’s the Eagles going against the Knights.
“Now, we will be pulling for Triad to get Highland,” Winslow said of the MVC chase. “You never know.”
He did know that the Eagles can’t afford the luxury of making mistakes — two fumbles and an interception — in a championship-type game setting.
“We had to understand that we need to play four solid quarters and respond to adversity,” Winslow said. “Highland has a good quarterback, a good running back and they are big up front. I thought we were ready to play. The difference was a couple of key plays and the turnovers.”
HIGHLAND 35, CM 27
Highland 0 21 0 14 – 35
CM 7 7 0 13 – 27
CM – John Whitworth 8 run (Colin Hall kick), 5:02
H—Trent Rakers 1 run (kick failed), 11:54
H – Rakers 2 run (Seth Levad pass from Garrett Marti), 8:24
CM – David Lane 3 pass from Adam Hill (Hall kick), 6:06
H – Jimmie Smith 28 pass from Marti (Zeke Kaufman kick), 2:04
H – Austin Nix 2 run (Kaufman kick), 11:30
CM – Zach Williams 1 run (Hall kick), 8:53
H—Rakers 12 run (Kaufman kick), 4:51
CM – Tim Klocke 16 pass from Hill (no extra point), :00