By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Following a week of the usual hype that saw even some well-known figures get into the act, it was time to decide things on the football field.
The result proved similar to the last seven meetings between the two Northern Kentucky powers. The Highlands Bluebirds showed they are still the team to beat in Class 4A with a 35-21 win over the arch-rival Covington Catholic Colonels on Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium in the District 7 opener for both teams.
The Bluebirds did it once again with their offensive versatility. They played quick-strike football the first four games. But in this contest, Highlands moved the quick Colin Seidl into the backfield and grinded things out from many different angles in the victory and kept CovCath’s potent offense off the field.
“It is a great defense,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach, of the Colonel defense. “They have a lot of starters back and we have a lot of respect for them. We felt the run was there and we have a pretty versatile offense so we went with that.”
The Bluebirds ran the ball 61 times for 291 yards for an average of just more than 4.77 a contest. Quarterback Donovan McCoy led the way with 29 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. Seidl finished with 86 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown and Zach Harris had 75 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.
“This was absolutely our toughest challenge yet defensively,” McCoy said. “They held us to the least amount of points we’ve scored all year. We came in and were expecting to run the ball like we did.”
The Bluebirds responded with touchdowns every time the Colonels threatened. The CovCath defense had allowed just two touchdowns entering the game. In CovCath’s 27-11 loss at Cincinnati LaSalle, the Lancers scored two touchdowns on turnovers and another on special teams. The Highlands offensive line opened enough holes for the running backs to move the chains.
“We have to get that footwork going,” said Nick True, Highlands junior tight end. “They like to get off blocks quickly so you have to keep the feet moving, especially on the second level.”
Highlands finished with 342 yard of total offense and 22 first downs. CovCath (4-2, 0-1) finished with 237 yards and 14 first downs (see side story). The Bluebirds came into the contest averaging 56 points, eight touchdowns and 529 yards of total offense per game.
The Bluebirds did not pass much. But they did convert key first downs when they took to the air. McCoy completed 5-of-7 passes for 51 yards with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jac Collinsworth and an interception. Justin Weyer had two catches for 24 yards and teammate Luke Turner had two for 23 for the Bluebirds.
Highlands trailed 7-0 after the first quarter, but scored three times in the second to go up 21-14 at halftime.
The Bluebirds scored first when Seidl ran it in from 12 yards out. The point-after-touchdown kick failed so CovCath still led 7-6.
But the Bluebirds came back six minutes later and scored when Harris ran it in from 12 yards out. McCoy converted the two-point conversion to give Highlands the lead for good at 14-7.
After the Colonels tied the game at 14, the Bluebirds responded with a 10-play drive to take the lead for good on Collinsworth’s touchdown reception with 27 seconds left in the half. Highlands converted a huge 3rd-and-11 on the drive at the CovCath 45 when McCoy found Weyer for a 15-yard pass.
Highlands added two more touchdowns in the third quarter. McCoy scored from two yards out after a Colonel turnover with 6:59 left in the quarter and Harris smashed into the end zone from six yards out with 1:19 left in the third following a CovCath score.
Neither team scored in the fourth. But Highlands did use a 13-play drive to run out the final 5:53 of the game. The Bluebirds drove to the Colonel 3 before kneeling twice. They converted a 4th-and-inches when McCoy ran behind the offensive line for three yards.
The Bluebirds continue district action Friday at Harrison County (0-5). Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Cynthiana.