Highlanders suffer from missed opportunities



Audrey Wang

Senior Daniel Sanders misses a catch inside Harrison territory

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

        Once considered a perennial playoff team, the Highlanders have slumped to a 2-4 record after blowing what was almost-definitely their last chance to salvage their season. By falling to the Harrison Hawks 21-0 in a game that was far uglier than the score suggests, the Highlanders mathematically eliminated themselves from the playoff race.

In the unlikely situation that they rally to finish 5-4, Adams would lose a tiebreaker with any team due to their weak schedule. What this means is that, barring a late season surge and a miraculous disqualification, the Highlanders’ season will come to an end on October 23 when they close out their season with a crossover game that is yet to be decided.

        It was a cruel ending to what has been an unnecessarily gruesome season for the Highlanders. In the very possible scenario where Adams beats North Farmington and Rochester, fans would be left to mourn the 6-2 record they might have owned if not for foolish losses to Farmington and Oak Park.

        When all was said and done, however, Adams came up empty in the moment of truth. Faced with their last opportunity to save their season, the Highlanders put forth their worst game of the season.

        On a day that quarterback Kyle Wood would rather forget, things went wrong almost immediately. Facing a third and 16 from the AHS 16 on the third play of the game, Wood threw an ugly pass that was picked off by cornerback Tommy Williams and returned to the AHS 8 yard line. One play later, the Hawks were in the end zone after the Adams defensive line failed to seal the edge on a run to the outside. Running back Jared Char’s 8 yard dash put Harrison up 7-0 just 1:36 into the game.

        On the subsequent possession, Adams showed signs of life, driving 53 yards until they faced a third and seven from the HHS 20 yard line. It was on third down that Kyle Wood made the mistake of holding on to the football for too long, trying to get a big play. Wood scrambled back and forth inside the pocket until he was finally brought down for a loss of 12. This would not be the last time that Wood’s decision to hold on to the ball would turn a manageable situation into a drive-killer. On fourth and 19, Wood would scramble for no gain, turning the ball over on downs and wasting a red-zone possession.

        After trading three-and-outs, Harrison took over at the AHS 40. Three runs of eight yards each then put the Hawks within reach of a two score lead. Three plays later, however, the same man that scored the first points of the game coughed up the ball at the AHS 11, before the ball was picked up by Highlander defender Jake Anderson.

        Taking over at their own 16, the Highlanders took to the air on first down, with Wood overthrowing receiver Corey Beale on what might have been a deep touchdown pass. Discouraged by the incompletion, Adams went back to the run only to hand the ball back three plays later after failing to convert on fourth and three.

        From the AHS 25, it took only one play (shocker) for the Hawks to score. Harrison quarterback Anthony Giovanni found a wide open David Vinskey in the back of the end zone to put the Hawks up 14-0 with 7:58 remaining in the first half.

        A good return by Julian Benevides on the ensuing kickoff started the Highlanders off at the HHS 49. Following a nice run by running back Chase Kareta, Adams held the ball at the AHS 36, once again poised to put points on the board. Like last time, however, Kyle Wood’s hubris derailed the drive thanks to two sacks that totaled a loss of eight yards. Wood’s repeated inability to throw away the ball kept the Highlanders from a manageable fourth down and, facing a fourth and 18, the Highlanders were forced to punt.

        Three runs totaling 17 yards took Harrison to the AHS 37, before receiver Sean Williams dropped a would-be touchdown pass on a deep ball. Another dropped pass on third down would end Harrison’s drive. With 2:27 remaining in the half, and Adams unable to move the ball, it appeared as if Harrison would cruise to a 14-0 lead at half-time. However, the Highlanders special teams came up big with a blocked punt on fourth down. With the ball at the HHS 34, Adams was back in business.

        With a chance to erase some of his earlier mistakes and go into half-time down only one score, Wood suffered perhaps his worst four-play stretch of the game. On first down, Wood’s pass to an open Corey Beale deep down the seam sailed harmlessly out of bounds. On second down, Wood threw above the head of Mark Patritto across the middle. On third, Wood abandoned the play due to pressure before being sacked for the fourth time, this time for a loss of one. Finally, on fourth and 11, Wood broke the first rule of football by weaving back and forth deeper and deeper behind the line until he was finally sacked for a loss of 16. The special teams had gift wrapped a scoring drive for the Highlanders, and in four plays, Wood managed to accrue -17 yards and two sacks.

        The score going into half-time may have been 14-0, but the atmosphere was more akin to a 31-0 deficit. The first Highlander fans had already started to head home, and those who stayed did not seem very hopeful.

        On the opening possession of the second half, Harrison went for the jugular. Instead of punting the ball on a fourth down and five, the Harrison up-back took the snap directly and ran for 26 yards. From there the Hawks could not be stopped. Jamison Scarber’s 24 yard touchdown run was made to look straight out of a Barry Sanders highlight reel thanks to the Highlanders inability to bring him down on multiple opportunities.

There may have been nearly 20 minutes left in regulation, but up 21-0, the Harrison Hawks had essentially put the game on ice. The next three possessions for the Highlanders were more of the same: bad passes by Wood interspersed between sacks and 2 yard runs. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Harrison had begun to put in their third string defenders. And Adams still couldn’t score

With 3:03 left in regulation, Adams embarked on a garbage-time, stat-padding drive in which they took advantage of players that very possibly may have been playing their first full drive of the season. The drive reached the HHS 1.5 yard line before, surprise, Kyle Wood took back-to-back sacks that took the ball back to the 16 yard line. The pièce de résistance? Chase Kareta dropped a would-be touchdown pass at the goal line on fourth down. Two kneel-downs later, the game was over.

Kyle Wood’s stat line of 13/29 for 185 yards may seem impressive, but rest assured that the hefty majority of those yards came well into garbage-time. The real statistic to focus on is the unfathomable ten sacks that Wood took in the game. While two of them were caused by insufficient protection, the remaining eight sacks were a direct result of Wood’s desire to extend the play rather than living to fight another day. The ten sacks added up to a combined loss of 72.5 yards. To put that into perspective, that’s over four times as many yards as Wood ran for—17 yards on ten carries—and well over the entire team’s accumulated 54 rushing yards.

Many have criticized Wood’s play this season, and while he rarely deserves the flack he gets for the Highlanders’ defeats, there’s no denying that he could have done more against Harrison. In recent weeks, for example, Wood failed to will his team to score points when inside the opponent’s 30 and failed to make the plays that make the difference in a game.

This game may not be the sole reason Adams will miss the playoffs, far from it, in fact, but this game is the reason that this Friday’s game against North Farmington holds no importance. In the end, this season will be remembered for missed opportunities and wasted talent. The next few weeks will be very telling as far as to what kind of team the Highlanders are. It would be easy to lay down and give up, but rallying to a strong finish would mean a lot to a fanbase that has been starved for celebration.