BRUNSWICK — Anytime Jake Rogers looks deep into the sky to receive a punt, anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 sets of eyes open wide in anticipation of magic.
The human joystick failed to disappoint in yet another dazzling performance under the Friday night lights.
Rogers further cemented his claim as the best return man in Medina County history — 1940s Medina star Jim Johnson is his only company — as he set up a TD with a punt return, took another 74 yards to the house and impacted another boot with his mere presence to help Highland defeat Brunswick 28-7 in the non-league season opener.
Highland is 3-1 against its big-brother neighbor since the series resumed in 2015.
“In a game, I really just kind of see what happens and go from there,” Rogers said. “I don’t set it up. I’m just good at reacting.
“After two games last year, everyone started to punt out of bounds, which is kind of annoying, actually. But when they do (punt to me), I’m going to try to score and make them pay for it.”
On a night in which Brunswick defensive ends Tomas Rimac and Spencer Hrabak had field days against the Hornets’ all-new offensive line, Rogers found little wiggle room offensively. The Division II second-team All-Ohioan had 13 carries for 5 yards and four receptions for 27 yards.
Highland’s defense also was up to the task — outside linebacker Brady Linder had a pick-six — making for a 1980s-style, field-position war, but with spread offenses. The special teams, however, were all Hornets.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Rogers was a big reason why, as he fielded a punt, juked a defender out of his shoes and veered down the left side for a 45-yard return to the Brunswick 7. The ball moved back to the 22 for a sideline infraction, but quarterback Jack McGinty snuck into the end zone two plays later to put Highland up 7-0 with 10:36 left in the first half.
The game then temporarily got really crazy with 21 points in 31 seconds. Linder’s 29-yard INT came on the next play from scrimmage and Brunswick’s Anthony Staimpel returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards to paydirt, but Rogers put Highland in control 21-7 on a 74-yard punt return down the visiting sideline with 2:38 remaining in the half.
The final score was set up when Brunswick shanked a 9-yard punt trying to avoid Rogers, and McGinty nailed Bryce Profitt on a 25-yard post pattern on the next play.
McGinty was an impact special-teamer, too, with a 41.6-yard punting average and attempts that rolled dead at the Brunswick 3, 12, 17 and 19.
“We couldn’t get the offense going a lot, honestly,” Rogers said. “They were blitzing toward me, but if we got stopped, (McGinty) could punt it 80 yards. He bombed them and gave us good field position on defense.”
With five tackles for loss (3 sacks) despite being all of 5-11, 165 pounds, middle linebacker Jack Myers spearheaded a Highland defense that held the Blue Devils to 16 yards rushing on 28 attempts and veteran quarterback Josh Stacho to an uncharacteristic 7-for-22 passing for 83 yards and two interceptions.
Ends Jack Kohmann and Joey Hammond-Johnson and corner Profitt (TFL, INT) also stood out as Brunswick never sniffed the red zone, punted 10 times and had 29 plays go for 0 or negative yardage.
“We worked so hard,” Myers said. “We watched film, and every day the scout team gave us a great look.”
While the Brunswick offense was stagnant despite a massive size advantage up front, the defense was brilliant. Highland finished with only 68 yards rushing and 104 passing, though McGinty did complete 10-of-15 attempts and the tried-and-true power option picked up clock-chewing yardage in the second half.
Along with Rimac and Hrabak starring for Brunswick, Bobby Lindsey had an interception, Curtis Helman had a thunderous hit for a sack and Eddie Sevastos and Ben Mewhinney also had tackles for loss.
The only problem was the Blue Devils’ punt team couldn’t contain Rogers.
“Rogers is absolutely special, and when you do things that let him get the ball — whether they give it to him or we let him have it — he’s going to do special things,” Brunswick coach Mark Pinzone said.
Highland 28, Brunswick 7
HIGHLAND 0 21 7 0 — 28
BRUNSWICK 0 7 0 0 — 7
H — Jack McGinty 2 run (Justin Tepes kick), 10:36.
H — Brady Linder 29 interception return (Tepes kick), 10:17.
B — Anthony Staimpel 94 kickoff return (Justin Hagler kick), 10:05.
H — Jake Rogers 74 punt return (Tepes kick), 2:38.
H — Bryce Profitt 25 pass from McGinty (Tepes kick), 8:29.