Highland had been here before.
The ball was inside the 5-yard line and Highland had one play to find the end zone before time would expire. Earlier this year, Lisbon stuffed the Huskies and denied them a victory. This time the Huskies willed their way to a Connor Grinstead touchdown and Owen Donovan added the extra point to give Highland a 25-24 victory over Pekin.
Highland coach Scott Morel said after weeks of talking about it, the players finally found the grit they needed to win a game.
“It was like a weight lifted off their shoulders,” Morel said.
Before Grinstead rushed in the game-winning touchdown, he made a play earlier that saved the game. The Huskies had driven down into Pekin territory before Grinstead threw his second interception of the night. Pekin’s Kennan Winn had a shot at returning the interception for a touchdown that would have sealed the game, but Grinstead rushed back to make the tackle.
A chop-blocking penalty pushed Pekin back combined with Highland using their timeouts to stop the clock gave Highland the ball back at their own 40-yard line with 2:16 remaining in the game.
The eventual sneak from Grinstead was very close, but it was ruled he crossed the goal line before his knee went down.
Morel said that one play has seemingly changed the way the Huskies are approaching things. He said it really clicked for the players that when coach Joe Donovan is making them do the two-minute drill repeatedly in practice, that situations like these are why.
The Huskies overcame a 21-6 deficit during the game. The comeback began halfway through the third quarter as Owen Donovan took a kick return back for a 78-yard touchdown.
After holding Pekin to a field goal on the next possession, the Huskies scored a touchdown on an 11-yard touchdown reception by Zane Arnold to bring the game within six points at 24-18.
The Highland ground attack combined for 140 yards rushing led by Cole Adamson with 55 yards rushing on 14 carries. Grinstead had 13 carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns.
Zane Arnold caught his first touchdown of the season and had four receptions for 58 yards receiving. Mason McFarland was over 50 yards receiving for the fifth time this season, catching five passes for 121 yards.
McFarland has been a boon to the Highland offense this season. His 495 receiving yards is seventh in Class A and the top in Class A District 6. The senior has taken a bigger portion of the offense this year as well, surpassing his receptions and yardage from last year through six games this year.
The Huskies move to 4-2 on the season and 1-1 in district play. Pekin is 2-4 and 1-1 in district play.
Highland will travel to Durant for a rematch of their playoff game last season. The Huskies won that game 14-13.