Eli Secher’s grin said it all.
The 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior tackle was all smiles following Highland Park’s first playoff win in 14 years, a 56-6 drubbing of host Mather on Saturday, Oct. 28, at Winnemac Stadium in Chicago.
Secher is one of several three-year varsity starters for the Giants who came up a win shy of the postseason the past two seasons.
“It’s absolutely amazing. I’m super excited right now,” he said. “It means everything. We’ve been working for this for a very long time.”
Highland Park advances to host No. 3 Cary-Grove (8-2) — which toppled Libertyville 49-6 in the opening round — at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, at Wolters Field.
After four straight 4-5 nonplayoff season, the Giants (7-3) punched their postseason ticket by ripping off four straight victories to end the regular season, reaching six wins and earning the No. 11 seed in the 32-team IHSA Class 6A tournament.
Highland Park drew a first-round matchup with No. 6 Mather, a Chicago Public League school that posted a 7-2 record, and the Giants took out years of frustration on the overpowered Rangers.
The visitors posted 21 points in the first quarter and 28 more in the second to lock up the milestone victory before halftime. When a second-half running clock elapsed, Highland Park had racked up 56 points, 282 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns, and another 94 yards and three scores through the air.
Nikko Rosenbloom racked up 83 ground yards, including scoring runs of 28 and 46 yards. Tyler Gleyzer (38 total yards), Eli Moore (45 yards) and Nick Newman (93 yards) also scored rushing TDs. Newman’s end-zone excursion covered 79 yards and capped the afternoon’s scoring.
Senior quarterback David Finfer added three touchdown throws, all of them going to senior Nick Blumer on catches of 4, 8 and 24 yards, respectively.
“Our gameplan was just to come in play physical and win,” Secher said, adding that he “definitely (felt good)” about the team’s run-game dominance.
The Giants defense stood tall as well, recovering a fumble (Zach You), blocking a punt (Sebastian Vybral and Alex Knight) and stuffing multiple fourth-down attempts. Mather’s only score came in the third quarter against Highland Park’s reserves.
The complete effort gave the Giants their first playoff win since 2009, when they also had a 6-3 regular season and won their playoff opener. Between then and Saturday, a span of 12 seasons (no playoffs in 2020-’21) Highland Park was 0-5 in five trips to the postseason.
But from 1999-2009 (11 seasons), the Giants earned nine playoff berths and won five playoff games. For Highland Park head coach Anthony Kopp, a 2008 HPHS graduate who played on some of those teams, it was a familiar and welcome feeling to pick up his first playoff appearance and playoff win on Saturday.
“It feels good, of course. A lot of hard work; these boys put in the time, bought in and are playing great football right now,” Kopp said. “It’s been a long time coming and it feels good.
“We’re just clicking, playing good team football,” Kopp added. “It is great that it is happening now. It’s the right time.”
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