When a team whips an opponent, 46-12, it might be assumed that all is well. But watching the Highland Rebels play the Brookland Bearcats at Brookland on Friday, Sept. 28, coaches and many Highland fans might be concerned instead. Sure the Reb offense produced about 600 yards of offense and scored seven touchdowns, but much of that was generated through athletic ability and not good execution.
"We're not executing our offense the way we need to be executing. We're having too many busted plays in the passing game, mainly. We're having to turn everything into scramble plays," explained Rebel Head Coach Spencer Hill. "We need to settle down. First of all, I think we are trying to make the big play, every play, and we've got to be more disciplined than that."
Defensively, the team gave up 325 yards to the Bearcats, who are playing in their first varsity season. Many of those yards came on third or fourth down, when it appeared the Rebel defense had Brookland stopped. The Bearcats offense converted seven third downs into first downs, and stayed alive on four of their fourth down plays, including one that went for a touchdown.
"We've got to do better on third down and fourth down. We're not very good at stopping the pass on third and fourth down," admitted Hill. "It starts with the pass rush. We've got to be able to keep the quarterback contained, and stop something over the middle."
Coaches, players and fans know that it's one thing to reel off an 80-yard scoring run or pass against a young Brookland team, but against Valley View, Pocahontas or Nashville it's another story.
"Defensively, I'm happy that we improved from the first quarter on," said Hill. "First quarter, they gashed us a little bit there and I think we made the adjustments and our defense played a lot better."
Speaking of execution, the Highland offense could not have executed the first series any better. Running a no huddle, hurry up offense, Avery Johnson went 41-yards on a reverse, followed by a Sterling Stowers to Michael Copeland 27-yard pass to the one-yard line, and concluded with Jordan Brewer running it in, untouched, for the score with just 32 seconds off the clock. Ethan Hoppe, who was four of seven on point-after attempts, made the score 7-0.
A holding call hurt Brookland's first drive and they were forced to punt.
On first down, Johnson settled under a Stowers pass at mid-field and took it the rest of the 87 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The Bearcats responded with an 11-play, 65-yard drive for a Dylan Works to Kevin Cantwell five-yard TD pass. Brookland suffered two five-yard penalties on the point-after attempt, which allowed senior defensive end Quinton Maag to block the PAT and keep the score at 14-6.
Stowers had just picked up a first down on two runs of four and six, when Brewer found an opening for a 65-yard touchdown scamper and a 21-6 advantage, with five minutes left in the first quarter.
Showing a little grit, the Bearcats mounted a second scoring drive covering 65-yards in five plays. This time, Works hit Blake Yarbrough on a 28-yard TD pass. Works' conversion pass was incomplete.
Deon Stewart returned the kickoff to mid-field. Three plays later, Stowers rolled first to his left and then back to his right, where he found Hoppe in the end zone for a touchdown and a 28-12 lead with just under three minutes left in the first quarter.
Kamran Seat recovered a Yarbrough fumble at the Bearcats 24 on the ensuing kickoff. Stowers had three runs, including a three-yard TD rush to increase the lead to 34-12.
Neither team could find the end zone in the second quarter. Brookland put together two long drives that stalled in Highland territory. Highland had a drive stopped by an interception in the end zone, and ran out of time in the half with the ball at the Bearcats five-yard line.
The Rebel defense forced a Brookland punt to start the second half, and the Reb offense put points on the board with a Stowers to Hoppe scoring pass for a 40-12 lead.
Highland fumbled on its next possession to give the ball to the Cats at the Rebel 15, but the defense backed them up to the 20-yard line, forcing Brookland to attempt a 37-yard field goal. The wobbly kick was picked up by Copeland at the one-yard line. Coaches yelled for Copeland to run, but an inadvertent whistle stopped the play. After an apology from the officials, the ball was awarded to the Rebels at their-own 20-yard line.
The officials' mistake was moot, because Brewer would take the next play for an 80-yard touchdown score and the game's final points with 14 seconds gone in the fourth quarter.
Highland (5-0, 2-0) was led by Brewer with 207 yards on 10 carries. Stowers was seven of 11 for 228 yards passing, to go with 64 yards on 10 totes. Johnson had three receptions for 112 yards, followed by Hoppe with three catches for 89 yards.
The Rebels will take the road once again on Friday, Oct. 5 as they play the Blazers at Valley View.