SPARTA — Control the line of scrimmage, control the tempo and control the ball. Highland football coach Chad Carpenter has preached all year to his team that if they do those three things, good things will happen.
Friday night, he was right on the money, as his Scots accomplished all three and rolled to a 38-7 victory over visiting Portsmouth West in the first round of the Division IV state football playoffs.
“You could tell the kids really came out this week and practiced extremely hard. They just really responded well to what we were trying to get. The kids really wanted to win this last one on their home field,” said Carpenter.
With the victory, the Scots will advance in the playoffs and play Ironton, a 32-12 winner over Coshocton, Friday. The site will be determined Sunday.
The Scots (9-2) controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, holding Portsmouth West to just 192 yards on the night while racking up 361 yards of their own. That surge up front defensively let the tacklers do their thing, as they forced six fumbles on the night.
“Those were huge. They were hard hits. They weren’t just sloppy turnovers, they were forced turnovers. The defense really showed up and wanted to get after it,” Carpenter said. “The big thing was we had to stop that line surge. That was huge. The guys up front really stepped up and did what we needed to do — controlling the defensive line.”
Senior defensive lineman Jordan Watson was the key benefactor on those six fumbles, recovering three of them.
“I knew if we would fly to the ball and do what we were supposed to do, it would all work out good,” said Watson. “We came out and played with a lot of pride, a lot of heart. We did what we needed to do and got it done.
“Our defensive unit really stepped it up. We knew we had to shut down the run. That’s what we’re made for. We came up against a good offense and did what we needed to do — shut down the run.”
The Scots started off the game on fire, taking the opening kickoff and marching down the field for a score. Hayden Mailey got things started with a 28-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, then quarterback Josh Gahm finished off the drive with a 1-yard plunge.
A Highland fumble on the second possession set Portsmouth West (8-3) up at midfield. A 40-yard run by Jerrod Bricker started off the three-play drive, then Kyle Auger ran it in from 9 yards out to knot the score at seven.
Highland got a nice drive to begin the second quarter, moving the ball down the field on 11 plays to set up a 23-yard field goal from freshman kicker Quenton Miller.
From there, the defense took over and the Scots never looked back.
A Senator fumble, recovered by Watson, gave Highland good field position and the Scots went to work. Two nice passes from Gahm to Derrick Patrick and Matt Stooksbury helped move the ball down the field, then Artie McAndrew raced in from 9 yards out to put the Scots up 17-7.
Another fumble recovery by Watson gave Highland the ball at the West 35-yard line late in the quarter. Gahm completed passes to Stooksbury, McAndrew and then found Colby Randall open in the end zone for the 13-yard score. Gahm eluded a couple of tacklers, then watched as Randall made a nice play on the ball to get the score.
“Our passing game did a great job. That forces teams to respect both and is a big weapon. It’s nice to have that option when we need it,” Carpenter said.
If it wasn’t over already, McAndrew put it away for good with a 49-yard scamper to open the fourth quarter. Sophomore David Fisher added another score on a 26-yard run late in the game. Fisher broke several tackles at the line of scrimmage, then raced into the end zone for the final score.
“With all the different looks we got on film, we didn’t know what to expect. It was kind of prepare for one defense and hope for the best. They did a good job of mixing things up. We just tried to counter everything they did — just keep that ball moving,” Carpenters said. “We wanted to try to hang onto the ball as long as we could to help the defense, and it looked like the big plays just kind of took over. We’re going to take a big play whenever we get it, obviously. We want to control the ball and control the tempo. The kids just did a great job.”
McAndrew led the Scots with 168 yards rushing on just 19 carries. He also scored twice. Mailey added 60 yards, while Fisher had 28 and Clay Chipps 15. Gahm completed 7 of 14 passes for 90 yards and the touchdown. Stooksbury caught two balls for 27 yards, while McAndrew caught two for 18 yards.
Portsmouth West was led by Bricker, who rushed for 69 yards. Auger added 60, while quarterback Levi Ratliff completed 3-of-10 passes for 40 yards. He was sacked four times by the Scots.