By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Highlands Bluebirds do not need to be told every football team in Class 4A is aiming for them.
They’ve been in that position for years, especially with a state-record 21 state championships, including the previous five. Highlands (12-1) again puts its 28-game playoff winning streak on the line Friday against a team that could consistently challenge on a yearly basis.
The fourth-ranked Lexington Catholic Knights (11-2) come to Fort Thomas in a rematch of last year’s state semifinal contest at 7 p.m. Highlands downed LexCath, 42-21 in Lexington before beating Franklin-Simpson, 42-14 in the Class 4A title game a week later.
The Bluebirds beat the Covington Catholic Colonels, 28-13 in the Region 4 title game to make it to the semifinals. Down the road, LexCath rallied past Boyle County, 27-16 in the Region 3 championship. The Knights outgained the Rebels, 393-247 in total offense including 306-81 in the second half.
Lexington Catholic’s two losses came to undefeated teams. The host Bowling Green Purples (13-0) beat the Knights, 35-21 on Oct. 26. The Purples are playing in the Class 5A semifinals.
LexCath’s other loss came to visiting Nashville Ensworth (12-0) – the two-time defending Tennessee Division II-AA champions. Tennessee separates the scholarship schools into Division II and the non-scholarship schools into Division I so Ensworth has to beat just 11 teams to win a state championship.
On the other hand, Highlands is 85-3 since the start of 2007. The lone loss this season came to Cincinnati Elder. The Bluebirds average 51.8 points, 485.4 yards and about 7.3 touchdowns a game out of their spread offense. Opponents average 18.8 points, 270.8 yards and 2.5 touchdowns against the Highlands 3-4 defense.
Senior quarterback Donovan McCoy leads Highlands in rushing and passing. He’s run for 819 yards on 123 carries and 17 touchdowns for an average of about 6.6 a carry and completed 150-of-236 passes for 2,445 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Junior Zach Harris has 795 yards rushing on 106 carries and 15 touchdowns for an average of 7.5 a touch.
Eleven Bluebirds have at least nine catches. Senior Luke Turner leads the way with 34 for 703 yards and seven touchdowns. Senior David Christian has had some crucial catches since recently returning from injury.
“It’s always great to have extra weapons,” Christian said. “You can never have too many good players. We want to play the best we can the entire game.”
The Bluebirds generally wear down opponents because they do not have players going both directions. But LexCath can say the same so it may not be an advantage unlike most opponents.
“Our receivers have done such a great job this year,” said Nick Behymer, Highlands wide receivers coach. “Whatever we ask them to do as a coaching staff, they’ve just done it. We’ve had games where our receivers have had great games. We throw for a ton of yards. They’re catching balls well. Then we’ve had games where we’ve not thrown it as much and they’re blocking great too.”
Defensively, Reid Schroeder leads Highlands with eight tackles for a loss for 15 yards and Thomas Wrobleski has 6.5 tackles for a loss and a team-high six sacks. Teammate Seth Hope had three sacks against CovCath and forced a fumble. Quentin Murray leads Highlands with five interceptions and brother Brady Murray leads the team with two fumble recoveries.
The Bluebirds will face a spread offense like they did against CovCath. But unlike last year, Highlands will not take on University of Louisville commit Kyle Bolin. Bolin tore his Anterior Cruciated Ligament in LexCath’s 24-21 win over Boyle County on Sept. 28. He’d completed 113-of-207 passes for 1,556 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.
But sophomore Ryan Reese has done well in his place. Reese has completed 84-of-168 passes for 1,214 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“On film, they don’t look like they’ve missed a beat (offensively),” said Mark Dill, Highlands defensive line coach. “(Reese) looks really poised. Lexington Catholic has a long history or having great quarterbacks and he’s just the next one in line. Anytime you’re looking at a passing quarterback, pressure helps. We’re focused on stopping the run first and foremost then getting pressure on the quarterback.”
LexCath has outscored opponents, 446-220. The Knights have thrown for 2,793 yards and run for 1,806. Amoh Kumengisa leads LexCath with 540 yards rushing on 85 carries and 15 touchdowns for an average of about 6.4 a carry. Kumengisa had 16 carries for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the Region 3 championship game.
The Bluebirds must contain LexCath standout wide receiver David Bouvier. Bouvier has 83 catches for 1,240 yards and six touchdowns. Bouvier had eight catches for 130 yards against the Rebels.
“We’re keying on (Bouvier),” said Grayson Heck, Highlands sophomore defensive back. “They throw the deep ball so we’re trying to stop the deep ball. He has a size advantage. It will be a challenge.”
Defensively, LexCath has allowed 1,795 yards rushing and 1,865 passing. Junior linebacker Josh Messmer leads the Knights with 84 tackles. Senior strong safety Anthony Kersey leads LexCath with three interceptons. No Knights have more than one fumble recovery.
Highlands leads the all-time series, 4-1 against LexCath including the last three. LexCath’s lone win in the series came in the Regional Final, 17-0 in Fort Thomas back in 2005. Highlands also beat LexCath in the 2002 Region title game, 31-24 in addition to wins over the Knights during the regular season in 2007 and 2008.
That defeat marked the last time Highlands has been shut out. The Bluebirds have put points on the board in 100 straight games since then. Highlands has just eight losses in those 100 games, including five in 2006.
The Bluebirds have also won seven consecutive state semifinal contests dating back to a 45-6 loss at eventual Class AAA state runner-up Rockcastle County in 2002. Highlands lost to Covington Catholic in the second round of the playoffs in 2006 for its last playoff defeat.
The winner of this game will take on either third-ranked Warren East (13-0) or Collins (10-3) for the state championship. It takes place on Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. EST at Western Kentucky University.