Effingham senior Dalton Fox gets greeted by junior Connor Simmons as he watches the clock wind down after a football game against Highland, Friday, October 22, 2021, at Klosterman Field.

Now they wait.

After Effingham’s 42-21 loss to Highland (5-4) Friday night at Klosterman Field, the Hearts now look to Saturday, where they hope to hear their name when the IHSA announces playoff pairings. The show starts at 8 p.m. on the IHSA TV Network.

Effingham, who is 4-5 on the season, is one of 105 teams waiting to see if they will continue the 2021 season.

“It’s a weird year,” Hearts head coach Brett Hefner said. “People I’ve talked to think that there will be a number of four-win teams that make it, and there aren’t many that have more points than us. So, it’s a unique situation from that standpoint, and it’s hard because it makes it hard to plan and makes it hard to figure some things out, but we’ll cross our fingers and hope that we get the opportunity.”

A seemingly farfetched idea after how the season started, Effingham turned the tables, winning enough games to get themselves to this point, with Friday night being one that the Hearts would love to have in their back pocket.

However, Highland was thinking the same, as a prolific offense proved to be too much for the Hearts to handle.

Opening the game with the ball, the Bulldogs used a 15-play drive to put points on the scoreboard after junior running back Travis Porter scored on a one-yard run to make it 7-0 with 8:09 left. Porter finished with 66 yards on 17 carries.

Effingham responded, though, with a long drive of their own, as the Hearts capped off an 11-play possession with a 24-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tanner Pontious to junior wide receiver Caden Walls to even the score. Walls went on to score one more touchdown in the game, as well.

Back-to-back drives led to a pair of touchdowns from each team’s offense, and the scoring had only just begun.

After a 15-play drive to open the game, Highland used a 17-play drive on its next possession to regain the lead. With 9:27 left in the second quarter, junior quarterback Brent Wuebbels scored on a five-yard touchdown run that made it 14-7, but, once again, the Hearts would return the favor.

Just like the Bulldogs, Effingham also scored on its second drive, after Pontious’ pass went off of junior Armando Estrada’s hands and into the arms of Walls for a five-yard score that knotted the game for the second time. Walls’ only two catches of the game were touchdown grabs.

Seventy-four seconds separated the Hearts from halftime with momentum on their side, but that ended up not being the case.

Highland closed the half with a bang after Wuebells found senior receiver James Beard for a 50-yard catch-and-run to make it 21-14 heading into the break. Beard had 86 yards receiving on five receptions.

“That was a tough one to end on, and, again, we’re in the right place,” Hefner said. “We had a chance to pressure the quarterback a little more, but that was a big play for them at the end of the half, but we had the ball to start the second half, and we didn’t start the second half very well. So, we had a chance to answer offensively and didn’t.”

From there, it didn’t get much better for the home team, either.

Starting the second half, Effingham opened with the ball, but the only thing that came of it was a turnover. On its sixth play of their drive, Pontious had his passed picked off by the Bulldogs’ Gabe Marti, who promptly returned it down to the 13-yard line, leading to another Highland touchdown.

An extra possession that the Hearts couldn’t afford on this night.

“They’re good, and when you have a breakdown here or a breakdown there, it turns into points, and you can’t give away possessions,” Hefner said. “We had a couple of possessions that we gave away tonight. We say it all the time, ‘Do the boring things great.’ If every possession ends in a kick, then you’re OK, but when you give away extra possessions, and they showed it, too, when you make mistakes against us, it turns around. When you play really good teams, you can’t be a half-step there or a half-step here, in terms of a big play, or it turns into six points.”

Contact EDN Sports Editor Alex Wallner at 217-347-7151 ext. 124 or

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