HAMMOND | Highland drubbed Gavit 55-6 in the sectional opener and exploded on offense in the second half after initially struggling to get its running game going.
The Trojans (5-5) went three-and-out on their first few possessions, and even had trouble getting past the line of scrimmage at first. The first few carries were all for losses.
"We started off mighty, mighty slow, but it was a tale of two halves," said Highland coach Trent Grider. "Give Hammond Gavit their dues; they came out and they took it to us."
Highland made adjustments at halftime and rolled out a no-huddle offense and improved blocking in the second half. Once the Trojans established the run, it couldn't be slowed down.
Highland ran for 288 yards, including 205 in the second half. Five different Highland running backs found their way into the end zone.
Ian Hardy ran for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Sean McQuillan, who first put the Trojans on the board in the second quarter, rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries.
Highland ran Gavit (2-8) ragged, picking up more steam as the Gladiator defenders tired. Late in the game, two Highland running backs -- James Gaskey and Griffin Grider --dashed for long touchdowns on their first and only carries.
Gavit held Highland scoreless in the first quarter, but mishaps plagued the Gladiators as the night went on.
Two bad snaps in a row to open the third quarter put them in a fourth-and-35 situation. An illegal formation penalty clawed back a booming 56-yard punt that rolled just right and would have pinned Highland on its own 1-yard line, and ultimately cost Gavit 44 yards in field position after the replay did not go as well. They made a red zone stand and forced Highland to turn the ball over on downs in the second quarter, but then gift-wrapped a touchdown with an interception that gave the Trojans the ball at the three-yard line.
Initially, the game looked like it was shaping up to be a punt fest. Neither team got a first down until nearly eight minutes had passed in the first quarter.
But the tide turned in Highland's favor after the Trojans decided to go for it on fourth and nine on Gavit's 40-yard line, and quarterback Hunter Rycerz connected with 290-lb. tight end Dylan Whitehead, who lumbered for 22 yards.
A few plays later, McQuillan found a big hole and ran for a 10-yard touchdown.
Gavit answered right back on their next possession, after Gladiators quarterback Tashon Rogers completed a few long passes and ran in a one-yard touchdown.
But Gavit would not come anywhere close to scoring again, and Highland's arsenal of running backs exploded for seven more touchdowns and four runs of more than 40 yards.