Basha tops Highland in tight contest
But only for ONE minute… and 12 seconds.
That's how long it took Werlinger, University of Arizona-committed wideout Nate Phillips and company to take back the lead they'd relinquished to the visiting Highland Hawks, who, with 1:42 to go in the game, had just made the first score of the second half on an 18-yard touchdown run from James Brletic.
The meeting of two powerful East Valley 3-1 teams was dominated by defense and rapid-reaction scoring. The first quarter saw 10 minutes of defensive stops, including an interception of Werlinger and three Highland punts before backup QB Brandon Marxman helped move the Bears close enough for Werlinger to find Marxman himself in the end zone for the first touchdown with 1:50 to go in the quarter. But a failed onside kick gave Highland the field position it needed to level the score barely a minute later, as senior Hawk Bill Johnson took the fourth play of the drive in for the first Highland score.
A field goal put the Hawks on top for the first time of the night, but an interception by Justin Solomon off of Highland quarterback Blake Young's pass gave the Bears the spark and the spot necessary to answer back with a Werlinger run on a read-option that fooled everybody on the field and made the score 14-10.
It would be 25 minutes and 40 seconds, more than half a football game, before anyone scored again. The teams would punt back and forth eight times, with an interception by Basha's Dalton Krum mixed in the middle, before the Brletic run broke the seal on the scorer's tally book.
After the Bears received the kickoff on their own 33 with 1:38 to go and down three points, coach Bernie Busken had only one message for his team: "We've got to go," he said, "it's now, or never."
Werlinger chose now over never, took the field, and unleashed. Stifled all game by tipped and dropped balls while trying to find his Saturday-starting receiver Phillips over the middle, Werlinger connected on four of six passes, twice to Phillips, for a total of 67 yards, running it himself for the other 10. After flying 58 yards up the field in just over a minute, Werlinger found junior running back Rajhan Merriweather for the second time of that signature drive on a screen pass as the QB escaped heavy pressure. Merriweather, stifled all game by the powerful Hawk defensive line, finally had open field to work with and capitalized, rumbling 19 yards into the end zone to put Basha up 21-17 with only 30 seconds on the clock.
"That's what high school football is supposed to be," said Highland coach Pete Wahlheim, "That's the joy of football. … I'm so proud of [my guys]; I just wish they could have had a better result."
He went on to praise the effort of his team, who lost 49-0 the last time they played the Bears, and finished, "They just made one more play than we did."