Sometimes all an offense needs is a little motivation.
J.R. Brletic and the Highland football team provided that motivation for host Basha on Friday night.
With just 1:42 left in what had been a scoreless second half, Brletic took the handoff right up the middle and scored from 17 yards out to give Highland just its second lead of the game.
What ensued was a game-winning drive that was the perfect way to finish homecoming night for the Bears in a 21-17 win.
Junior quarterback Zach Werlinger led Basha (4-1) on a drive that started from its own 33-yard line and ended with a great catch and run by Rajhan Meriwether. With pressure in his face, Werlinger lofted a pass high over the outstretched arms of three defenders and into the hands of Meriwether who made some fantastic moves to get into the end zone for the game-winning score from 19 yards out with 30 seconds remaining.
“I had to wait a little longer than I expected," Werlinger said. "There was a tackle coming right toward me but I am glad I put it where it needed to be.”
Werlinger, in just his fourth career start, showed poise beyond his experience on the game-winning drive. He completed four of six passes on the final drive, all for over 10 yards.
“He is a good player," Basha coach Bernie Busken said. "He didn’t have his best night but he did when it counted.”
Werlinger’s first pass of the game was an interception and he struggled at times to find a rhythm as there were many dropped balls by his receivers, but he more than made up for it on the final drive. For the game he finished 14 of 23 for 125 yards with two touchdown passes and a touchdown run.
“They played well and I have to give them credit," Busken said. "We have not been very sharp the past couple of games. Thank goodness we got it together.”
For Highland (3-2) it is its first road loss of the season and coach Pete Wahlheim knows his team will bounce back.
“This game was not about one play, this was a heck of a high school football game," he said. "These two teams beat each other up and we came out on the short end. But this team will not let it hold them down.”
The Hawks once again showed some explosive plays on offense. In the first quarter Billy Johnson tied the game with a 33-yard touchdown run, breaking tackles along the way.
In the second quarter, Johnson caught a pass with the defender right in front of him as the ball was placed perfectly by Blake Young for a 33-yard gain. That catch led to a 32-yard field goal by Noah Miller that gave Highland its first lead of the game, 10-7. A 15-yard touchdown run by Werlinger late in the quarter gave the Bears the lead going into halftime, 14-10.
It would stay that way until Brletic broke through to start the drama. Both defenses played tough. The Basha defense came up with two interceptions and three sacks, while the Hawks defense had an interception and two sacks.
Werlinger was named homecoming prince and for him for him this game will leave a lasting memory.
“I will remember this night for a long time," he said.
Score by quarters
Highland - 7 3 0 7
Basha - 7 7 0 7
B - Marxman 8 pass from Werlinger (kick good)
H - Johnson 33 run (Miller kick)
H - Miller 32 FG
B - Werlinger 15 run (kick good)
H - Brletic 17 run (Miller kick)
B - Meriwether 19 pass from Werlinger (kick good)