HIGHLAND | They will call it a barnburner. They will call it a slobber-knocker.
But it was the rope-a-dope, circa 2012. And believe it, the Thrilla in Manilla had nothing on the Trojans.
For the first time in eight years, Highland will play in the sectional final. The resurgent Trojans ran for 400 yards on their way to a stunning 41-34 semifinal win over West Side at Sypult Field Friday night.
Highland won the opening coin toss, and took full advantage of the situation.
Behind the tough running of LaKice Brooks, the Trojans marched 66 yards in 15 plays, cumulating in a 7-yard TD run by Brooks. The drive took 8:12 off of the clock, which was Highland’s strategy.
Brooks ran for 226 yards and two touchdowns for the night.
“West Side is a big play offense,” Coach Trent Grider said. “The best way to defend them is to keep them off of the field. We need to keep their offense on the sidelines, and our guys did a great job tonight.”
After a Cougar punt, the Trojans put together another drive that ended when quarterback Gunner Grider scored on a 1-yard keeper to make it 13-0 with 9:46 left in the first half.
West Side (6-5) went three and out then punted again. At that point, the Cougars had 55 yards of offense and 25 yards in penalties.
“We needed to stay away from shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties,” West Side coach Jason Johnson said. “We can’t win the game if we can’t play disciplined football.”
Highland (3-8) wasn’t done. They put together a 10-play, 60-yard drive. Grider scored on a 12-yard end around. The two point conversion was good, and the Trojans led 21-0 with 3:39 left in the half.
“Our mental attitude was great all week,” Coach Grider said. “We believed in our win last week (over Griffith), and we believed we were going to win tonight.”
Grider backed up his team with a couple of gutsy calls, including a successful fourth down pass play in his own territory.
The Cougars staged a furious rally in the second half, scoring all 34 points. But Highland kept running the ball downfield, chewing up the clock with long drives.
“We knew our big play guys would do well,” Johnson said. “It was whether or not our interior lines would match their play.”
The West Side defense came up short, giving up a total of 440 yards and 20 first downs.
Highland had beaten West Side in three of the last four meetings, but lost the last match in sectionals back in 2010.
The Trojans are set to face off with Morton in Hammond for the sectional championship next Friday.