Highland saw its hopes of a district title end with a 54-8 loss to top-ranked Ira last week.
But it didn’t end its hopes to grab the No. 2 playoff spot — something Highland will clinch by defeating Hermleigh when the teams meet today in Highland in the regular season finale.
Highland (5-4, 1-1) had its five-game win streak halted by Ira (9-0, 2-0), which with the victory assured itself of going into next week’s six-man playoffs as the top seed in District 7, Division I.
If Highland should defeat Hermleigh (5-4, 1-1), how-ever, the Hornets will join Ira in the postseason.
Highland coach Jeff Shel-ton said Hermleigh — which crushed Rotan 90-41 this past Friday — will be a dangerous opponent but that he expects his team to be ready to play. “Our kids believe in our system and each other,” he said. “Our minds are in the right place.
“(Hermleigh is) a team that has gotten better each week,” he said. “They have a running back (Jacob Morris) who moved in from Westbrook this year who makes a big difference for them. They run and throw the ball well, have good size and speed, and play with very good intensity.”
A win today would com-plete Highland’s return to prominence with its first playoff appearance since playing for a state title in 2009. “Everyone for both teams knows what is at stake,” said Shelton.
“We are going with the same recipe that has allowed us to be successful this season: play hard, physical, fundamental football, one play at a time. We’re going to have to play well to win. I see it coming down to extra point conversions and turn-overs — whoever converts more of the former and makes less of the latter will win the ball game.”
Hermleigh won last year’s contest, 59-48, at Herm-leigh. This time Highland will have the homefield ad-vantage. “It’s always nice to play at home, but at the end of the day it’s six players on a side on a 40-by-80-yard field,” Shelton said. “The rest is a non-factor.”
Highland will probably need a big game tonight from running back Michael Hyde, who had the lone TD against Ira last week.