RIVERSIDE — Highland won its first playoff game as a stand-alone program in 2018, finishing 8-3. The Huskies were 2-7 the previous year and finished 5-4 last season.
“We have to keep building on what we have been doing,” Highland co-head coach Scott Morel said. Joe Donovan is also a co-head coach. “I think we are going in the right direction.”
The Huskies face a completely new Class A district this season with Wapello, Columbus, North Cedar, Lisbon and Iowa City Regina replacing BGM, Pekin, Durant, Cardinal and Belle Plaine.
“it is a whole new gambit of teams,” Morel said. “Everybody is watching film on everybody.”
Highland will still play Belle Plaine and Cardinal in non-district play. Last year, the Huskies edged Cardinal 27-20 at home and lost 50-14 on the road to Belle Plaine.
The Huskies opened 2019 with a 55-6 road win over Columbus, which is now in the district.
“They are an improving team,” Morel said of the Wildcats.
This season will open at home against Van Buren County, which had a 1-8 record last season, then a second home game will follow against Wilton, before a road trip to Belle Plaine.
“Wilton always fields a good team an Belle Plaine is a hard-nosed opponent,” Morel said.
Wilton was 3-6 while Belle Plaine was 7-3 and won the district but lost in the first round. Cardinal, 4-5 last year, will be the last non-district game.
The Ratings Percentage Index will be in its third year of use for choosing playoff teams that don’t win their district.
“They are all key games because of the RPI,” Morel said.
District play starts at Wapello, 5-4 last season, followed by home games against Columbus (1-9) and North Cedar (4-5).
“Wapello is going to have a good quarterback returning,” Morel said.
If the Huskies could win their first seven games, their last two — road games at Lisbon and Iowa City Regina — will certainly test them.
The Huskies started last season 3-0 before a 20-12 home loss to Lisbon.
“Lisbon will be good,” Morel said. “Regina is full of tradition of going to state. They have to be the pick to win the district.”
In the past, Regina has been a 1A team. Dropping down a class will give them an advantage, but the Huskies love a challenge.
“Our junior varsity played well last year so that will be a big help,” Morel said.
The Huskies have quarterback Connor Grinstead returning as well as running back Owen Donovan.
Grinstead, who will be a junior, ran for 506 yards on 92 carries and threw for 920 yards on 41-of-88 passes. Donovan, who will be a senior, had 726 yards rushing on 104 carries and caught five passes, two for touchdowns.
Key guys on the line for Highland will be senior-to-be Isaac Black, juniors-to-be Devin Lovetinsky and Eli Slaymaker.
Morel looks to Caeden Herbison and Tristan Stokes to make major contributions on defense as well as Trevor McFarland.
Highland 2020 Football Schedule
Aug. 28 vs. Van Buren County
Sept. 4 vs. Wilton
Sept. 11 at Belle Plaine
Sept. 18 vs. Cardinal
Sept. 25 at Wapello*
Oct. 2 vs. Columbus*
Oct. 9 vs. North Cedar, Stanwood*
Oct. 16 at Lisbon*
Oct. 23 at Iowa City Regina*
* District games
Bold are home games