By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
COVINGTON – Fans and outsiders see things like overall program wins and consecutive state championships.
But the Highlands Bluebirds football team players and coaches will be the first to say they look at accomplishing things on a day-to-day or year-to-year basis. This year’s Bluebirds can now say they have an undisputed Class 4A, District 7 championship after a 57-28 victory over the host Covington Holmes Bulldogs at Tom Ellis Field on Friday.
“We were looking to play really well in this game,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach. “The guys were ready to play and we jumped on them right from the start.”
The Bluebirds (8-0 overall, 4-0 district) have won six consecutive district championships and 16 in the previous 17 seasons. The only year they did not win a title was 2006 when Covington Catholic beat them on a last-second touchdown pass.
Highlands bulldozed the rest of the district after beating arch-rival Covington Catholic, 35-21 on Sept. 21. They outscored Pendleton County, Harrison County and Holmes a combined 197-38. The Bluebirds contained the Bulldog offense and their Spread Diamond attack (see side story).
Highlands extended its winning streak to 28 with the win. The Bluebirds have scored 455 points, 65 touchdowns and put up 4,206 yards of total offense. That averages just under 57 points, just more than eight touchdowns and 525.8 yards per contest.
Holmes came into the game an improved team. The Bulldogs are 5-3 and 2-1 and could face Covington Catholic in a battle for second place and a home playoff game in the first round of the playoffs this Friday. Holmes won four games last year and lost 77-0 at Highlands.
The Bluebirds outgained the Bulldogs, 562-340 in total offense, including 418-87 at halftime. This included 303-51 through the air. Quarterback Donovan McCoy completed 12-of-18 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns – all in the first half.
McCoy and backup quarterback Drew Houliston completed 16 passes to 11 different receivers. Luke Turner led the way with two catches for 67 yards. Ryan Greene, Luke Brockett, Nick True and Jaylen Hayes also had two catches respectively.
Zach Harris had another big game running the ball for the Bluebirds. He gained 110 yards on three carries for an amazing average of 36.7 yards per touch and one touchdown. Hayes finished with 73 yards rushing on 14 carries for an average of 5.2 a touch and Ryan Donovan had two touchdowns carrying the ball 15 times for 70 yards and an average of 4.7 a carry.
“We rested some guys,” Mueller said. “We got Zach Harris out after he ran the ball three times. It was a good game for us.”
The Bluebirds jumped out on the Bulldogs in the first quarter and never looked back. Colin Seidl returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown and McCoy completed the two-point conversion pass to Brandon Hergott.
Highlands received the ball back about two minutes later and struck quickly. Harris broke free for a 71-yard touchdown.
The Bluebirds received the ball at the 50 after the Bulldogs failed to convert a 4th-and-1. Harris ripped off two runs for 39 yards after an incomplete pass and McCoy found Jack Grimm in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass to put Highlands up 22-0. The offensive line gave McCoy enough time to find Grimm on the play.
“The team executed the plays (Friday),” Grimm said. “They (offensive linemen) gave Donovan (McCoy) the opportunity to see what’s going on from the backfield. It depends on the play call. Once we see Donovan scrambling, we try to find the open hole to let him throw the ball to.”
Highlands was not finished. The Bluebirds scored again minutes later when Jensen Feggins scored on a 57-yard touchdowns reception. Highlands led 29-0 after the first quarter.
The Bluebirds extended the margin to 50-14 at halftime. Greene caught a 27 pass from McCoy and Highlands scored twice in the final minute. Donovan cut around the left side for a 9-yard scamper and Highlands received the ball back at its 33 with 25 seconds remaining after three Holmes incomplete passes.
“We work on various things,” Mueller said. “We work on the end of the half a lot. We execute that really well. A big part of football is at the end of the game, if the game is on the line, you have to be able to get down the field and score.”
McCoy completed a 31-yard pass to Turner to the Holmes 36. After two incomplete passes, Brockett lined up for a field goal. But the Bluebirds decided to take a shot at the end zone with one second remaining after the Bulldogs jumped offsides. McCoy lofted a pass toward the end zone and Turner grabbed the tipped pass for the 31-yard score.
“Before the play started, we knew it was hail mary so I told the other two (wide receivers) to tip it outside because we had done it the play before and it almost worked,” Turner said. “We just hoped it would work that time.”
The Bluebirds scored just one touchdown in the second half. It came with 28 seconds remaining when Donovan scored on a 5-yard touchdown.
Highlands did move the ball in the second half. They lost a fumble at the Holmes 9 and did not convert a 4th-and-goal on two trips to the red zone.The Bluebirds face 5-3 Cincinnati Elder on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Fort Thomas.