By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports
It is the story of two football teams that share a prestigious Kentucky record.
The Boyle County Rebels won five consecutive state championships from 1999 to 2003 before Highlands ended that run beating the Rebels in the 2004 Class 3A state title game, 22-6. Highlands equaled that run with a fifth straight championship beating Franklin-Simpson, 42-14 in the 4A title game last year after winning 5A the previous four seasons.
The two squads meet again tonight at David Cecil Memorial Stadium where the Bluebirds own a 39-game winning streak. Highlands owns a 20-game winning streak overall and is 73-2 the past five seasons.
Boyle County struggled in 2006 and 2007. But Larry French came in and revived the Rebels in 2008. Boyle County is 52-5 in four years under French. The Rebels won the 4A titles in 2009 and 2010. They lost to eventual state champion Bell County, 17-15 in the state semifinals in 2008 and lost 10-7 to Lexington Catholic in the regional title game last year.
“We’re going into enemy territory, so that’s a challenge,” French told the Danville Advocate-Mfessenger. “Our whole season is going to be a challenge. But our kids are up for it and we’ll go up there and play to the best of our ability and hopefully, it will be good enough. If it’s not, we’ll come back and work on things to try to get better.”
Highlands ended Boyle County’s 30-game winning streak with a 35-14 victory in Danville last year. The Kentucky record for the most wins in a row belongs to Louisville Trinty, whom Highlands scrimmaged Friday and lost 63-31. The Shamrocks won 50 in a row between 1988 and 1991.
“Boyle County is always so solid,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands head coach. “Their guys block and tackle with such a good fundamental position. They don’t get their feet crossed. They don’t get their heads down. They use their hands well. They are just solid fundamental players.”
Boyle County does have some question marks entering the season. The areas of concern are the secondary on defense and the running game and offensive line on the other side of the ball.
The Rebel defense returns six starters. Senior defensive back Clint Hellyer was out with a collarbone injury a few weeks ago after registering 61 tackles last year. Linebackers Austin Muntz (90 tackles), Kyle Kephart (84 tackles) and Keegan Kendrick (84 tackles) also come back for Boyle County. Defensive linemen Trey Yeager (79 tackles) and Blake Mason also return for the Rebels.
The young Rebel secondary could have its hands full against Highlands’ experienced wide receivers. That group is led by seniors Luke Turner and Jac Collinsworth. The receivers missed some potential big plays in the first half of the Trinity scrimmage. Quarterback Donovan McCoy finished the game completing 7-of-21 passes for 93 yards.
“It took us a little bit to get going. It was mostly the receivers,” Turner said. “We had plenty of time and the line did fine blocking. We were not coming out of our routes well enough or running them fast enough. It was about the timing. That will come.”
The Bluebirds know they need to do a better job executing to win Friday’s game. They had just 195 yards of total offense against Trinity. But Mueller said that’s already changed in practice this week.
“We’ve been executing plays,” Mueller said. “We just missed connecting a lot in the scrimmage. Practice is about getting better with the things you should do.”
The Shamrocks held the Bluebirds to 29 yards on the ground on 29 carries. The Highlands offensive linemen hope to help change that Friday. The line is led by players like senior Richie Whitford.
“Everyone always seems a little inexperienced that first game,” Whitford said. “But it helps us that we have three or four guys that played a lot last year so I think we’ll be able to use that this year to help us. I think we’re doing more run-blocking this year so we should be able to move the ball well.”
Defensively, Highlands faces a Boyle County offense that returns its quarterback and some wide receivers but has concerns in the running game and offensive line. Quarterback Casey Whittle threw for 1,594 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year. Wide receiver Lloyd Hall hauled in 21 catches for 459 yards and five touchdowns last year.
Boyle’s leading returning rusher is junior Seph Burke. Burke ran for 518 yards and four touchdowns in 2011.
Turnovers could be a huge key in this game like many of them. The Bluebirds recovered three Trinity fumbles and linebacker Thomas Wrobleski had an interception.
“We talk a lot about turnovers on defense,” said Connor Poston, Highlands linebacker. “If you get a lot of turnovers, especially if you turn them into points, your chances of winning the game go through the roof. It helps a lot with everything. We’ve been practicing wrapping up a lot because getting them on the ground is the first priority. Turnovers come second.”
Game time is 7:30 p.m. tonight.