By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
UNION – A little optimism abounded for the home team here – for a quarter.
After a turnover-filled first quarter, the Highlands Bluebirds found their offensive groove. The quick-scoring offense put up 31 points in the second quarter and Highlands pulled away from the host Ryle Raiders, 58-13 at Borland Stadium on Friday.
“The guys just played so well after that start,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach. “I was really proud of them. They didn’t lose focus at all. They started executing.”
Class 4A’s top-ranked Bluebirds (9-1) quickly swished the bad taste of last week’s 38-24 loss to Cincinnati Elder, which snapped their 28-game winning streak, out of their mouths. The win also marked their first here since their only loss to a Kentucky team since the start of 2007, 28-26 in 2010.
Highlands improved to 82-3 since the start of 2007. The Bluebirds are 77-1 against teams from Kentucky and 5-2 against teams from Ohio during that timeframe.
Highlands outgained Ryle (3-6), 476-235 in total offense. That included 270-25 through the air.
The Raiders had no answer for the Donovan McCoy to Luke Turner connection. Turner hauled in seven receptions for 172 yards and four touchdowns for an average of about 24.6 yards per catch. McCoy completed 15-of-21 passes for 257 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Highlands offensive line provided McCoy great protection all night. The Raiders did not record a sack of McCoy.
“We don’t have to protect (McCoy) that long because our wide receivers are so fast and Donovan makes such good decisions,” said Scott Turner, Highlands junior offensive lineman. “It’s just a matter of moving your feet, keeping your head back and arms extended.”
The Bluebirds saw seven receivers make catches. Jaylen Hayes had three catches for 24 yards and rushed for 51 yards and a score. Teammate Jensen Feggins added two catches for 22 yards and Luke Brockett had Highlands’ other touchdown reception. Brockett also made all seven extra-point attempts and a field goal for 16 points on the evening.
Highlands did not dress running back Zach Harris. But the Bluebirds more than made up for that. Josh Watson came in and led Highlands with 63 yards on four carries and a touchdown. McCoy and Ryan Donovan followed with 46 and 40 yards rushing respectively.
The Bluebirds turned the ball four times in the first quarter including their first three offensive plays. The Raiders recovered an onside kick, another Highlands fumble and Ryan Rytlewski and Nick Kennedy recorded interceptions.
But the Bluebirds defense held strong after the turnovers. Ryle did not even make a first down after any of the turnovers. The Raiders punted twice and did not convert on fourth down.
Ryle’s lone touchdown of the quarter came when Highlands did not covert a 4th-and-1 at its own 46. The Raiders drove down to the Highlands 7 after Daniel Osborne ran for 33 yards on 3rd-and-7. On 3rd-and-goal from the 10, Eric Moore found Kyle Pangallo for the touchdown.
It was one of just four passes the Raiders completed the entire game. They were 4-of-13 for 25 yards.
But the Bluebirds erased that 7-0 lead quickly. Brockett hit a 23-yard field goal before Turner recorded touchdown receptions for 44, 12 and 33 yards. Brockett’s 15-yard touchdown reception with 9.6 seconds left in the half to put Highlands up 31-7.
“(Turner) is a senior,” Brockett said. “His leadership role helps us step up our game. We realize what we have to do to get the job done too.”
The Bluebirds extended the margin to 45-7 after the third quarter. Turner hauled in his fourth touchdown pass from 30 yards with 8:59 left and Hayes scored from five yards out. After Hayes’ score, Ryle ran a 16-play drive down to the Highlands seven before turning it over on downs.
The Raiders scored their second touchdown with 9:10 remaining in the game. Cody Anzevino scored from nine yards out.
Highlands scored twice in the final 14.2 seconds. Josh Watson scored on a 43-yard run and the Bluebirds scored their first defensive touchdown of the year on the last play of the game. Griffin Urlage picked off Ryle quarterback Eric Moore and returned it about 60 yards for the touchdown.
The Bluebirds return to Fort Thomas to start the playoffs Friday in a first-round rematch with the Boyd County Lions (5-5). Highlands beat Boyd County, 63-7 last year.