Friday evening, the Highland Hawks Open playoff chances continued to dwindle after a crucial 32-12 loss to the No. 3 Hamilton Huskies.
Highland has missed the Open playoffs by one or two games every season under head coach Brock Farrel. Once again, Farrel has presented his players with an opportunity to get their names picked out of the hat to play in the 6A open playoffs.
“We seemingly have to win one out of these three games,” defensive coordinator Jason Lyons stated.
The Hawks have lost their last two games, falling to Basha last week and Hamilton Friday in what seemed to be a close game to start. Hamilton has averaged just under 40 points against every opponent it has faced, and the Hawks goal was to keep it close.
Hamilton was held scoreless in the first quarter, but the Hawks offense was not able to capitalize on the chances they were presented with. The Hawks found themselves down as the Huskies found pay dirt within the first five seconds of the second quarter.
Highland’s offense struggled in the game against Basha and that was no different this week. Quarterback Gage Dayley struggled to move the ball through the air in the first half, missing his targets by a couple inches on what seemed to be every throw. The Hawks largest gain came off of a razzle dazzle play where they reversed the ball not once but twice to allow Matt Martinez to find running back Steven Trujillo on the sideline. This would lead to Highland’s first points of the night and at the time was a harmless 6-3 Huskies lead.
Hamilton, however, did not let its guard down, as it went on a 14-0 run in the matter of 90 seconds to end the first half. Hamilton quarterback Nicco Marchiol led the push with three passing touchdowns in the second quarter.
“That score at the end of the half hurt, being able to go into the half 13-3 is way better than 20-3,” Farrel said.
The Huskies did not stop that run after the half as their first drive resulted in six, but that did not stop the Highland defense from performing to possibly their highest level of the season.
“I play the game of chess a lot in my life and I don’t win all the time, but I don’t lose again,” Lyons said.
The Hawks played until the final whistle. In the second half, the defense gave their offense a chance to bring them back and Dayley did not disappoint. Dayley would find receiver Hunter Stewart for their first touchdown of the game, leaving the Hawks with a 17-point deficit.
The defense trotted onto the field after the score and a fire was lit. They forced two turnovers, a blocked punt by junior Ethan Clement and a strip sack from senior Cooper Scott, but it was not enough to overcome the still undefeated Huskies.
“Our goal is to get guys healthy going into this next game,” Trujillo said.
The Hawks defense is missing key seniors, Carson Allen and Fisher Camac, and in the fourth quarter, Dayley would exit the game after a hit to the head and is being evaluated to see his availability for next week.
Highland’s season is not over yet, however, with two games remaining the Hawks still have an opportunity to make the Open playoffs they have strived for week in and week out. This next game against the Chandler Wolves is a must-win if they want to secure a spot in the top eight8 teams.
Farrel holds high expectations going into his last two games.
“We have to win the war.”