Highland Home dominates Ariton in rematch

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

The much-anticipated rematch between the Ariton Purple Cats (0-2) and the Highland Home Flying Squadron (2-0) lived up to its hype with the Flying Squadron emerging victorious with a commanding 35-7 win this past Friday night.

The game took place at Ariton’s Dr. Robert F. Zumstein Stadium and showcased the stark difference in performance between the two teams.

Highland Home, ranked fourth in the Class 2A state poll, demonstrated the team’s prowess from the opening kick. Within just 19 seconds, senior quarterback Brice McKenzie dashed 68 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for the evening.

Despite a partially blocked extra point attempt, the Flying Squadron took a very quick 6-0 lead.

The Purple Cats’ troubles deepened when freshman quarterback Addison Senn threw an interception during the first offensive play. McKenzie, playing safety as well, picked off the pass and returned it 39 yards to set up another Highland Home score.

Within twominutes and 19 seconds, the Flying Squadron had established a 12-0 lead, leaving Ariton playing catch-up for the rest of the game.

Ariton’s offense struggled throughout the night against Highland Home’s fast and aggressive defense, led by standout defensive ends Jakaleb Faulk and CJ May.

The Purple Cats managed just 119 total yards, with their ground game gaining a mere 84 yards on 32 carries. Their offensive woes were compounded by a 2-for-10 performance on third-down conversions.

Highland Home continued to assert dominance, extending their lead to 19-0 by the end of the first quarter. McKenzie connected with TJ Washington for a 25-yard touchdown pass, which was followed by a successful point-after kick by Austin Norman.

The Flying Squadron picked up where they left off in the second half, with Austin Crittenden scoring on a 5-yard run to increase their lead to 26-0. Ariton’s defense managed a goal-line stand later in the third quarter but was unable to prevent a safety on the next play.

Highland Home’s Washington scored on a 9-yard run in the final quarter, pushing the lead to an insurmountable 35-0.

Ariton, determined not to be shut out, embarked on a seven-play, 65-yard scoring drive late in the game, culminating in Easton Kilpatrick’s 14-yard touchdown run. Ian Senn added the extra point, and the Purple Cats avoided a shutout.

Reflecting on the tough loss, Ariton’s head coach Steve Kilcrease, speaking about his young team, acknowledged the challenge of emulating the remarkable comeback the Purple Cats made in 2019 when they started the season 0-2 but eventually reached the state quarterfinals.

He stressed the need for growth and improvement in various positions.

“This group is not as tough as we have to be to do what that group did,” Kilcrease said. “We have to have some young guys step up. We have to have other guys step up. There are a lot of positions where we have to get better at. The start was about as bad as it could start. The first play of the scrimmage, they scored on a long run. It was a good play call on their part. They had us in a particular defense and they busted us on it. The first play of scrimmage (for us), we don’t run the right route. You couldn’t start any worse than that. We had to play catch up from there.I take responsibility. That is on me and us as coaches. We have to figure it out – and we will.”

Ariton will seek redemption when they open region play at home against Geneva County next week. Meanwhile, Highland Home’s impressive victory serves as a testament to their strong start to the season, and they will undoubtedly continue to be a formidable force in Class 2A football.