SCOTLAND – In a rematch of both team’s season-opening game, the Scotland Highlanders defeated Irene-Wakonda 40-14 on Thursday night in the opening round of the Class 9B playoffs.
Scotland’s return to the quarterfinals of the 9B playoffs for the second straight season was highlighted by the Highlanders returning a pair of Irene-Wakonda interceptions for touchdowns. And Scotland also returned a second-half kickoff for a timely touchdown when the Eagles had cut Scotland’s 24-0 halftime advantage to 10 late in the third quarter.
Scotland (5-3) won its fifth straight game and beat Irene-Wakonda (2-7) for the second time this season by relying heavily on its defense to slow the Eagles’ spread and double wing offensive sets.
Scotland had a stellar first half defensively.
In racing out to a 24-0 halftime advantage, the Highlanders bookended the scoring in the first half by returning Irene-Wakonda interceptions for touchdowns. Sophomore Stephen Johnson got things going with a 45-yard pick-six while junior Nick Harrington went 99 yards in the closing seconds of the half to help the Highlanders stay in control.
“Our defense played really well tonight, and they’ve been playing well the last few weeks,” Scotland coach Ryan Robb said after the Highlanders won an opening round playoff game for the fourth time in the past six seasons. “We felt like we were really well prepared for whatever they were going to run against us.”
Scotland’s offense couldn’t get going in the first quarter. The Highlanders fumbled on their initial play of each of their first four possessions.
Scotland finished with 149 yards of total offense. The Highlanders’ lone first-half scoring drive accounted for 81 of those yards.
“We couldn’t run option or our toss like 10 weeks ago,” Robb said. “We were able to move the ball enough.”
The Highlanders’ defense did plenty to make up for any offensive struggles.
Stephen Johnson picked off a Dashel Spurrell pass at the Irene-Wakonda 45 yard line and ran past the Eagles to the end zone to get the scoring started with 9:11 remaining in the first quarter. Scotland quarterback Dawson Bietz then ran the two-point conversion in to give the Highlanders an 8-0 advantage.
Scotland’s offense got going on its fifth possession. After forcing a turnover on downs at the Highlander 19 yard line, Scotland put together a 9-play drive that junior Lucas Dennis capped off with a 21-yard touchdown. Dennis added the two-point conversion run to push the total to 16-0 with 10:08 left to play in the first half.
Irene-Wakonda threatened to cut into the Highlander lead in the final minute of the first half. The Eagles reached the Scotland 8 yard line with 23 seconds remaining in the first half. Harrington ripped a potential reception away from Dawson Johnke at the goal line. Harrington then returned the interception down the Scotland sideline for a 99-yard pick six. Turner Nicholson ran in the two-point conversion to push the Highlander advantage to 24-0 with five seconds to go in the first half.
“If Irene-Wakonda scores there, then maybe it could have been a much closer ball game,” Robb said. “Johnke had the ball and Nick just ripped it out. I was hoping he’d have enough to get down the sideline. We had Jordan Gall out front blocking and leading the way for him to get into the end zone.”
It was Irene-Wakonda that found the end zone first in the second half. Johnke’s 38-yard touchdown run made it 24-6 with 9:50 remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagles closed the deficit to 24-14 following Conner Libby’s 24-yard touchdown run and Johnke’s two-point conversion with 53 seconds to go in the third period.
But the Highlanders regained control and turned back Irene-Wakonda’s comeback effort by taking the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown.
Freshman Logan Sayler initially bobbled the ball before sprinting to his right. The 5-foot-10, 135-pounder then raced down the Irene-Wakonda sideline for an 87-yard touchdown. Turner Nicholson added the two-point conversion run to put the Highlanders up 32-14 with 35 seconds to go in the third quarter.
“That was a freshman who made a big play for us,” Robb said. “That’s the second one he’s returned this year. That was a big play by our kickoff return unit. It was as big as the pick-6s we had.”
Scotland finished the scoring with a 9-play, 30-yard drive that Nicholson capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run. Bietz connected with Jordan Gall for the two-point conversion pass to make it 40-14 with 55 seconds remaining in the game.