Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Good football teams do not take plays off.
That has been a major trademark of the Highlands Bluebirds throughout the years. It has Highlands on the verge of another district title. There is one opponent left in the way of that.
“The guys have been well-coached at a young age,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach. “It means a lot to them. They just try so hard every play. We are looking to do everything we’re doing the best we can. The more we do everything the best we can, then we got 11 guys on the field every play doing everything they can the best they can. That’s what makes a team difficult to beat.”
The Class 4A top-ranked, undefeated Bluebirds (7-0 overall, 3-0 District 7) hope to wrap up another outright district championship with a win over the improved Covington Holmes Bulldogs. Highlands has outscored district opponents, 174-31.
This would mark Highlands’ sixth consecutive district championship and 16th in the last 17 years. The only year Highlands did not win a district title was 2006 when Covington Catholic beat the Bluebirds on a last-second touchdown.
Holmes is 5-2 overall and has received some votes in the statewide Associated Press poll. The Bulldogs are also undefeated in District 7 at 2-0 coming off a 14-0 win at Harrison County. The Bulldogs also beat Pendleton County, 64-7 in district action.
Terry Liggin is in his second season as head coach of the Bulldogs. Holmes finished 4-7 last year, dropping a 66-20 decision at Johnson Central in the first round of the playoffs last year.
The Bulldogs come into the game on a three-game winning streak. They knocked off Class 2A power Newport Central Catholic, 12-7 on Sept. 28 during that run since losing to Simon Kenton, Cooper and beating 1A power Beechwood and Scott.
NewCath outgained Holmes, 261-210 in total offense. But the Bulldogs picked off four Thoroughbred passes and recovered a NewCath fumble in the win.
The other difference in the game came on two pass plays. Quarterback Rashawn Coston found wide receiver Desean Peterson for 30 and 15-yard touchdowns against double and triple-coverage. The Bulldogs played without the injured Coston against Harrison County.
“I think they really have a lot of good guys that are working hard and coachable,” Mueller said. “They’re not necessarily a really athletic team. They’re playing with really good energy.”
The Bulldogs employ a 5-2 defense and run an unorthodox Wing-T and Spread formations. One Spread package includes a Diamond set where Coston lines up in the shotgun with running backs to both sides and one behind him. One of those running backs is Jonathon Scruggs.
The Bluebirds will counter with their 3-4 defense. Opponents have scored just 17.9 points per game against Highlands and gained just 257.9 yards a contest. Linebacker Thomas Wrobleski leads the Bluebirds with five sacks and Reid Schroeder has three tackles for a loss. Quentin Murray and Blake Schutte have two interceptions a piece for the Bluebirds.
“(Highlands Co-Head) Coach (Brian) Weinrich watches a lot of film so we credit him a whole bunch,” said Joey Cochran, Highlands junior linebacker. “He’s the reason we win games. Come every Monday, (Weinrich) comes up with a new defense for every team. We have to learn it quick.”
But Highlands still has an advantage with its depth. The Bluebirds dress 91 players, while the Bulldogs have 49 players listed on the roster on the KHSAA web site. Mueller said Liggin and staff are trying not to play players both ways like Highlands does.
The Bluebirds average 56.9 points, just more than eight touchdowns and 520.6 yards per contest. They have a number of second and third-stringers who could start for many teams throughout the country. They don’t miss a beat on either side of the ball when someone goes out with an injury. Against Pendleton County, Drew Houliston and Beau Hoge quarterbacked the team while Donovan McCoy and some other teammates rested.
“There is a lot of competition, but Coach Mueller does a great job of getting everybody a lot of (repetitions) and plugging people in with the first team,” Hoge said. “If someone goes down like Donovan, it’s just like plugging the next man in.”
The balanced Highlands spread offense averages 283.6 yards rushing and 237 passing a contest. McCoy, Houliston and Hoge have completed 100-of-159 passes for 1,659 yards. McCoy leads the team with 79-of-125 completions for 1,264 yards, 16 touchdowns and just six interceptions and ranks second on the team with 424 yards rushing on 64 attempts and 10 touchdowns for an average of about 6.6 a carry.
Six Bluebirds have rushed for more than 100 yards overall. Zach Harris leads the way with 529 yards on 75 attempts and 11 touchdowns for an average of just more than seven a carry.
Nine Highlands receivers have more than 100 yards receiving including two for more than 200. Luke Turner leads the Bluebirds with 15 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns and Ryan Greene has eight catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Luke Brockett has 11 catches for 157 yards and three touchdowns and tight end Nick True has 10 receptions for 150 yards and three scores. True, Green, Jac Collinsworth, Jensen Feggins and Brandon Hergott lead the team with three touchdown receptions a piece.
Game time is 7 p.m. in Covington.