Watching the Highland Rebels, there are glimpses of what could have been and what still could be this season. A perfect route over the middle, a well delivered pass and the nifty run after the catch.
Rebel quarterback Cannon Davis hit Justin Bryant for three touchdowns in the second half, but it was way too late to make a difference in Highland's 44-20 road loss to the Newport Greyhounds Sept. 26.
"I felt like we were intimidated a little bit at the start of the game," said Rebel Head Coach Clay Wiggins. "All the things we worked on this week, trying to hit them with some quick passes. We just didn't click on anything we tried to do."
In the midst of playing quality football, Highland will lose focus and literally help the opponent win the game.
A linebacker not wrapping up the ball carrier who seems to be browsing for a hole, the quarterback chunking the ball down the field on a prayer, or the kickoff team continually giving up the ball near mid-field have all been part of losing the game.
To Highland's defense, the art of the kickoff has been lost over the last few years by most teams. There is a tendency to overthink the kickoff and try to be too cute or too fearful of the kick returner. It'll be a great day when teams start putting a foot back into the ball and expecting their squad to go cover it.
Starting at their own 44-yard line, it took the Greyhounds just four plays to find the end zone on a 40-yard run by Artez Brown. The snap was botched on the PAT, but kicker (and quarterback) Ryan McGaughey ran it in for the conversion, and an 8-0 lead.
Brown intercepted Davis on the Rebels' first drive, but Bryant was able to pick off McGaughey to stop Newport.
It looked as though the Rebels were settling in by exchanging punts with the Greyhounds, but then Newport was able to sustain a nine-play, 87-yard drive for a second touchdown.
Brown swept around the right side from 19 yards out and hurdled the Rebel defender to get into the end zone. Fullback Hakeem Doss tried to leap over the Highland line for the 2-point conversion, but was caught in mid-air short of the goal line.
The Rebels built some momentum on their next drive. Running back Michael Tarver caught a Davis pass off the back of linebacker Thamail Morgan and Bryant caught an 18-yard pass, both for a first downs. But four plays later the Rebels were punting.
"We've got to put together a whole game," said Wiggins. "We've got to come out from the get-go and start playing and start hitting some of those plays."
On a roll, Newport added a third first half touchdown with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. McGaughey pushed in from a yard out and the 22-0 lead.
The drive was kept alive by a 29-yard halfback pass from Brown to Doss on third-and- 12.
"They're faster than us and we just didn't take very good angles to tackle them," explained Wiggins.
The second half started with a Tarver fumble recovered by linebacker Chris Jones at the 21-yard line. McGaughey took the next play in for the score.
A bright side started to form for the Rebels.
Kick returner Matt Schneider took the kickoff to the Highland 44.
Davis hit Bryant in stride on a slant pattern, and he took the ball the rest of the way. Jeffrey Tate's PAT made the score 28-7, Newport.
The Rebel defense forced a punt, but a Davis pass to Ben Reed was intercepted by defensive back Bryon Crump.
Newport's fourth touchdown came on a McGaughey pass to spit-end Lewis Childress from the 35-yard line.
On the next drive, Davis hit Bryant for a one-yard loss, but found Eric Roberts for a 15-yard gain.
Highland has a sure touchdown if fullback Scott Gatewood catches the pass over the middle, but maybe it opened up the defense for Bryant's second slant for a 32-yard touchdown.
But Highland could not keep Newport from scoring.
Doss scored on a 38-yard run for the Greyhounds final score.
A Newport facemask call on the kickoff gave the Rebels the ball at mid-field, but Davis' third interception stopped the drive.
The Rebel defense was once again able to force a punt, covered by Gatewood at the Highland 32.
Tarver ripped off 14 yards to start the drive. Davis found Bryant for another 18 on third down. Reed caught a 22-yard pass on fourth down to setup a Bryant nine-yard touchdown reception. Tate completed the scoring with the point-after.
"In the second half, we came out and we started hitting those things that we worked on all week," said Wiggins. "We knew we could attack the center of the field on them because they didn't have a safety. Justin scored three touchdowns from the middle of the field."
Rebel safety Schneider had another monster night with 19 tackles, followed by Coty Woodson with nine and Gatewood and Brandon Sharp with eight.
Tarver had five rushes for 24 positive yards, but also had five rushes for 20 negative yards, which means Sharps' last run of the night made him the leading rusher with 14 yards on one carry.
Davis was 11-of-24 for 199 yards for the Rebels. Bryant had seven catches for 137 yards.
Highland (0-4, 0-1) will host Trumann on Oct. 3. Trumann (2-2, 1-0) beat Gosnell in overtime 35-34.