They moved the ball pretty well with a couple of long runs and a few passes. They punted a few times, with no turnovers, and the defense limited the opponent's points. By the end of the first half, they were only down 7-6.
But the second half looked like this year's team. So many missed tackles. Too many turnovers on their way to a 28-12 homecoming loss to Valley View at Rebel Memorial Field on Oct. 17.
"Turnovers and tackles is what's kind of keeping us from winning ball games," said Rebel Head Coach Clay Wiggins. "If we could change all that, things would be different."
Valley View, sporting the new Blazer racing decal on their helmets, started the game with a seven-play drive for a quarterback Taylor Lindley 5-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Dunning. Those would be the final points the Blazers would get in the first half.
Late in the second quarter, the Rebel defense forced Valley View to punt. Highland took over at Rebel 20 with four minutes left in the half.
The series started slow with a Blake Martin 1-yard run and an incomplete pass from quarterback Cannon Davis to Eric Roberts. On third down, Davis found Justin Bryant for a 24-yard gain to kick-start the Rebs.
Davis' spectacular fake and hidden ball trick set up Bryant's reverse for 20 yards. Martin hustled around the left end for five yards, but fullback Scott Gatewood gave them back on the pitch right.
The Davis-to-Bryant connection gained another 21 yards, followed by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Roberts with defensive back Kyle Biggers hanging all over him.
A Blazer slipped through the line and blocked Jeffrey Tate's point-after attempt to keep Highland from tying the game.
"I thought Cannon threw the ball pretty good tonight. Justin made some good plays receiving," said Wiggins. "Blake was running the tailback, because Tarver's out and he was doing a good job running the football."
Except for scoring, Highland carried the momentum into the second half.
The Reb offense drove deep into Blazer territory on the opening drive, but had to give the ball up on downs.
Martin, from his linebacker position, tipped a Lindley pass to Dunning and Bryant snagged it for the Rebels.
Highland's drive stalled on third down at the Blazer 42 when Robert caught Davis' pass, but Valley View kept Roberts from tossing the ball to Bryant to complete the hook-and-lateral. On fourth-and-7, Wiggins decided to go for it, but the Davis pass to Caleb Davidson went incomplete.
Running back Ronterio Hubbard picked up six yards on the sweep, but it was the personal foul that gave the Blazers the ball at the Rebel 29. Lindley found an opening for a 26-yard TD.
"Again, we had a hard time tackling people in open spaces," explained Wiggins. "We'll have somebody there, but we won't make the play a lot of times."
Martin fumbled the ball soon after the exchange on the first play of the next series.
Lindley found Jonathan Cole open in the middle of the end zone three plays later for a 21-6 lead.
The Rebels drove to the 12-yard line of Valley View on the next drive with 16 rushing yards from Martin, eight apiece from Davis and Gatewood, a Davis-to-Bryant 16-yard pass and a Blazer illegal participation penalty.
On first down from the 12, Davis had to throw the ball away. Bryant wasn't able to haul in the Davis pass on second down. Martin took the delayed hand off on a sweep left, but fumbled when he got hit from behind. The fumble would have been returned for a touchdown, but a block-in-the-back penalty made Valley View settle for the ball at the Blazer 18.
For some reason, Lindley threw a 'desperation-looking' pass downfield, right into Bryant's arms at the Valley View 32.
Martin's first down rush went for no yards, and then Davis lost two yards. The Rebel quarterback's pass to Matt Schneider went incomplete, but his pass to Bryant on fourth down picked up the first down.
Martin added four to setup Bryant's reverse for a touchdown, but a holding call negated it. Martin found a seam for the 16-yard score. Bryant was unable to push in for the 2-point conversion off the quick pass.
Hubbard would give the Blazer's a late TD on a 7-yard run.
"The kids played extremely hard tonight. We moved the ball. Overall, I'm pleased with our effort," said Wiggins.
Coty Woodson led the defense with 11 tackles, followed by Schneider with six.
Martin rushed for 92 yards on 21 carries while Bryant had four carries for 26 and seven receptions for 100 yards.
Davis was 10-of-18 for 139 yards.
It should be noted that Davis has been plagued with interceptions this year, but his one interception in this game came on the last Rebel play of the game.
Highland (0-7, 0-4) will travel to Pocahontas (3-4, 2-2) on Oct. 24.