"We really wanted to beat both teams," Highlands coach Dale Mueller said. "We have great respect for both programs, but it was really a big deal to our kids to beat both of these teams this year."
Turner held to 87 yards
Highlands won Friday by stopping Danville's Kelvin Turner. He came into the game averaging 212 yards rushing per game, the state's third best mark, but he finished with only 87 yards on 21 carries - and 40 yards came on his final run. Five times he was stopped for losses and five more times he either was stopped for no gain or only one yard. Normally he was hit by two or more defenders on every carry.
"He's a great player and we knew we had to stop him," Mueller said. "You can't just concentrate on one player be-cause the quarterback (Ronnie Hawkins) is a great player, too, and they have some other good players. But we knew stopping Turner was a big key to beating Danville and I did think we tackled well."
Danville didn't. Highlands used 10 running backs, including six by the midpoint of period one, and ran for 255 yards. The Bluebirds were so effective running the ball that they threw only three passes and completed one - a 19-yard touchdown pass to Brad Bardo in period three to make it 34-0.
"We were a little embarrassed that a Class A team came to our field and won last year," Highlands running back Robbie Peterman said. "We felt we had something to prove."
Danville ran for 198 yards thanks to 91 yards from Hawkins and had 71 yards passing, including a 9-yard scoring strike from backup quarterback Jeffery Guest to Ryan Harper in the fourth period.
"We wanted to get Jeffery some work there," Harp said. "If we can use him some there, it frees Ronnie to do some other things."
Harp said the statistics didn't indicate Highlands' dominance.
"They are really a good team. They have a lot of great athletes and not many play both ways," Harp said. "They are also outstanding in the kicking game. Not only do they put the kickoff into the end zone, but they are dangerous on returns. That's how they kept field position."
Highlands uses superior running depth
Highlands used its superior running depth to quickly build a lead that it never relinquished. On its second series, Highlands had four different backs carry the ball on an eight-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Jordan Nevels' 3-yard run.
Highlands' defense, which dominated the first half, forced a fumble on the final play of the first quarter that James Hubbard returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Darren Ross fumbled a pitchout from Hawkins as the horn sounded indicating time had run out. Hubbard never hesitated when he got the ball and went untouched to the end zone.
"That might have been a momentum changer, but they were already controlling the game at that point," Harp said. "It's just part of the game. It was a good play on their part and a bad play on our part."
In the second quarter, Highlands' Michael Bonomini found a big opening up the middle, ran through two tackles and scored on a 30-yard run and teammate Chris Owens scored on a 10-yard reverse for a 28-0 halftime advantage.
After Highlands took a 34-0 lead, Turner scored when he picked up a fumble and went 27 yards to score.
"That was our only major mistake," Mueller said.
Nevels' 66-yard kickoff return after Turner's score set up a 9-yard scoring run by Mike Schrode late in period three.
"Dale showed a lot of class by going with some of his younger backs in the fourth quarter and by having his quarterback take a knee late in the game," Harp said. "They are just really good. I'm glad we won't have to see them again."
Mueller says he wouldn't write off Danville's chances to repeat as Class A state champion because of this game.
"We are a lot bigger school, but Danville is going to be tough for any Class A team to beat," Mueller said. "They are not afraid to play big schools and Sam Harp is a phenomenal coach. They probably will not play a team as good as us or Boyle County the rest of the year. Now that they are only going to face Class A teams, it's going to be really hard for anyone to beat them."