Highland Hands Eagles Home Gridiron Defeat
By David Sharp
Highland cashed in two of three second half Knox County turnovers for game tying and go ahead points and went on to a 28-16 victory over Knox County in August 27 varsity football play at Knox County.
The Eagles grabbed a 16-8 first half lead, but faded in the second half.
“Running around on the practice field is not the same as (playing in a game),” said Eagle coach Alex VanDelft. “It’s hard to make the right choice when you are tired. We just need to get in better shape. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
“They were really strong at the point of attack,” Alex VanDelft said. “Once they got to the point initial contact, they stopped us. When we got there, they rode us for another three or four yards.”
“We need to wrap up and tackle. If we are going to meet them after a three yard gain and give them another three yards that is a six yard gain. That is just not acceptable.”
The game was entertaining and close until the final three minutes. Both teams scored on their first possession.
Highland turned a pair of 36 yard gains into eight points. Kamron Roberts connected with Kegan Brown on a long pass followed by Korbin Alderton’s 36 yard touchdown run with 10:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Kamron Roberts ran in the two point conversion for an eight point lead.
Knox County answered the Cougar 66 yard drive with a 61 yard scoring drive of their own. The Eagles ran the ball well out of a two back set.
Leighton McCabe powered nine yards for a touchdown at the 5:03 mark of the first quarter. McCabe’s two point run tied the score at eight all. Chris Sparks ran the ensuing kickoff back 30 yards to midfield.
Highland turned the football over twice in the first half. The home team did a good job of ball security in the opening 24 minutes. Damon Hemmerling picked up a Highland fumble on the Eagle 39 yard line.
Highland stuffed the Knox County drive. Brandon Baird boomed his first varsity punt 51 yards to the Highland seven yard line. The long no return punt probably kept the Cougars off the board. Baird rocketed another 46 yard punt later in the first half.
Highland ran the football at will. Korbin Alderton ran effectively from the wingback position, sweeping near the center of the field. Knox County coach Alex VanDelft called a time out. The Eagles did a better job of stopping the run.
Highland had the ball fourth down and five on the Eagle 25 yard line. The score was even at eight all with 4:01 to play in the opening half. Damon Hemmerling saved a touchdown by breaking up a pass to the end zone on the previous play.
Cody Simmons’ tackle turned the ball over on downs on the 21. Knox County took over on their 23 yard line with 3:57 to play in the first half.
Leighton McCabe dashed 39 yards for a first down. Brady Morton converted a fourth down at midfield after two Highland timeouts. The Eagles had four first downs on the drive.
The Eagles faced a fourth down and seven yards to go situation on the Highland 12 yard line. Brady Morton found Kellen Gillaspy on a corner route for a touchdown with 11.4 seconds to play in the half.
Leighton McCabe sent the Eagles to the dressing room on a high note when he picked off a pass at the end of the half. McCabe returned the ball 35 yards.
Highland had ten unofficial first downs in the first half to nine for Knox County. The Cougars held a slim 157-150 halftime rushing lead. Knox County had 26 rushing attempts to 18 for Highland unofficially in the first two quarters.
Knox County completed one pass all night for 12 yards. The Eagles were 1-10 passing on the night. A strong Highland pass rush, especially in the second half was a big factor in the outcome.
Kamron Roberts was 5-7 passing for 78 yards and a Highland touchdown and an interception.
Brady Morton went 1-8 in the air with two interceptions against and a touchdown. Kellen Gillaspy was 0-2 passing on the night.
Knox County took the second half kick leading 16-8. Tyler Olson recovered one of six unofficial Eagle fumbles, setting up Highland on their 45 yard line with 8:47 to play in the third quarter.
Highland moved the football well on the ensuing drive. Cameron Morford recovered a fumble on the Eagle 17 yard line. Highland saw penalties wipe out good gains all night. The Cougars had five penalties for 55 yards. One of the flags negated a 30 yard plus run.
The Cougars mounted a rugged pass rush. Leighton McCabe and Jon Harder left the game with probable leg cramps on the same play.
One of the Cougar rushers hit Brady Morton’s arm while attempting to pass shortly afterward.
Chris Sparks intercepted and returned the ball to the Knox County 14 yard line with 3:12 showing on the third quarter clock. A holding penalty pushed the football back to the Eagle 23 yard line.
Kamron Roberts converted a fourth down gamble to a game tying touchdown. Roberts fired to JT Gray with 3:19 to play in the third quarter. The 14 yard TD pass was converted for a two point conversion.
Highland ran a swinging gate play. Roberts found Korbin Alderton for the two point pass play. The game was tied at 16.
The Cougars built momentum with a strong second half defensive effort.
Highland sent four men in on Knox County’s punter, forcing Brandon Baird to run for a first down deep in his territory. The play did not count as an official turnover, but had the same effect.
Highland took over on the KCHS ten yard line. Derek Smith scored on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 22-16 Highland lead. The two point run failed.
Chris Sparks broke up a well thrown pass attempt to Kellen Gillaspy. The Highland pass rush created another interception. JT Gray picked off Brady Morton, putting Highland on the KC 25 yard line with 10:19 to play in the game.
Chance Tungate and Cody Simmons stripped the football, creating a fumble recovery by Tungate on the KCHS 37 yard line.
Knox County mounted a promising drive. Damon Hemmerling took the football to the Highland 13. A holding penalty wiped out a pass completion. The Eagles faced a third and 27 from the Highland 30 yard line with 3:39 to play in the game.
The Eagles drove the ball nearly seven minutes trailing by a 22-16 margin. Kellen Gillaspy ran several wildcat plays on the drive. Gillaspy finished with five rushing attempts for 28 yards.
Two incomplete passes turned the football over on downs. Highland took over on their 30 yard line with 3:20 to play in the game. Chris Sparks ran a base dive play 69 yards for a Highland touchdown on the set’s second play.
The game’s final score came with 2:25 showing on the fourth quarter clock. The two point pass failed and Highland led 28-16.
Knox County had at least three low snaps from center on shotgun plays in the final ten minutes. The Eagles could not move the ball and Highland took over on their 21 with 1:21 to play in the game.
The Cougars ran out the remaining time for a 28-16 victory. Highland did not win a varsity football game last season. The Eagles turned the football over three times, all in the second half.
Highland had four turnovers on the night. The Cougars scored 14 points off turnovers to none for Knox County.
Knox County finished with 49 rushing attempts for 229 yards unofficially. Leighton McCabe rushed 19 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. Highland keyed on Brady Morton most of the first half and McCabe in the second.
Damon Hemmerling had 15 rushes for 68 yards. Brady Morton was 10- rushing. Brandon Baird carried one time for a three yard loss on the foiled punt try. Knox County was penalized seven times for 50 yards. The Eagles had 13 first downs on the night by unofficial count.
Highland rushed for 267 yards according to official Highland stats. Korbin Alderton had 97 official yards on ten unofficial carries. Chris Sparks had 11 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Derick Smith rushed for 32 yards and a score.
“We talked about finishing tackles at halftime,” Highland coach Kenny Grubb said. “Our guys tried to make up for mistakes by stripping the ball out. We were missing tackles because we were reaching.”
Cameron Morford led the Eagles with 12 tackles. Damon Hemmerling and Cody Simmons had eight tackles each.
Dillon Cramer led Highland with 12 total tackles. Derick Smith was next in line with seven tackles.
“Our guys bought into that and did a great job,” Kenny Grubb said. “We have to talk about our guys up front. We were really young up there, but they did an awesome job.”
“The thing I was pleased with was we were able to spread the wealth. Kamron (Roberts) was able to throw it, Chris (Sparks) was able to run the ball,” said Coach Grubb. “Our outside game was going. When you can do that, you are pretty tough to stop on offense.”
Kegan Brown and Derick Smith had 32 unofficial yards receiving each for Highland. “They made the plays they needed to make. It’s a tribute to their hard work,” Alex VanDelft said of the Cougars. “They were making tackles they needed to make.”
“They scored off turnovers,” VanDelft said. “They did what they had to do.”
“This is the first game of a long season,” Kenny Grubb said. “It was great for our players, great for our fans and great for our high school to get this win tonight.”