By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
When you think the Highlands Bluebirds football team will not do something, Class 4A’s top-ranked squad proves you wrong.
The Bluebirds (13-1) came into Friday’s state semifinal matchup against the fourth-ranked Lexington Catholic Knights as favorites. But few expected them to beat the Knights worse than last year’s record-setting squad and eclipse their season averages of points, touchdowns and offensive output.
But the Bluebirds did just that in a convincing 61-28 win over LexCath (11-3) on Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium for their 29th consecutive playoff win. Highlands moved to 13-1 overall, including an 86-3 mark since the start of 2007.
The Bluebirds came into the game averaging 51.8 points, 485.4 yards and about 7.3 touchdowns a contest. In addition to the 61 points, Highlands finished with nine touchdowns and 640 yards of total offense. The season-highs for the Bluebirds were 70 points, 10 touchdowns and 644 yards of total offense in a blanking of Pendleton County on Oct. 5.
“We played really well,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach. “(Highlands quarterback) Donovan McCoy had 172 yards rushing in the first half. He didn’t have many incompletions. We just executed so well. I’m just so proud of the guys.”
The Bluebirds scored touchdowns on 9-of-11 possessions losing a fumble on their second one and running out the clock on the final one. Highlands is normally a quick-strike offense. But the Bluebirds took time off the clock on several of those scoring possessions.
Defensively, Highlands held LexCath to 299 yards of total offense. The Bluebirds put the clamps down on standout wide receiver David Bouvier (see side story).
The victory puts Highlands one step closer to a state-record sixth consecutive state championship. The Bluebirds battle the Collins Titans (11-3) at 8 p.m. Friday at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.
“It was such a whole team effort,” Mueller said. “They played like men. They looked like a pro team out there.”
The Bluebirds did most of their damage on the ground rushing the ball 60 times for 472 yards for an average of about 7.9 a carry. They also gained 31 first downs.
The Knights garnered 299 yards of total offense. That included 155 yards on 34 carries for an average of about 4.6 a touch and 20 first downs.
Highlands saw three run for triple-digits. McCoy and Zach Harris had 25 carries and three touchdowns a piece. McCoy ran for 218 yards and Harris added 116 for average of 8.72 and 4.64 a carry respectively.
Bluebird senior Colin Seidl returned two kickoffs back for a touchdown in last year’s 42-21 state semifinal win at LexCath. He scored two against the Knights on the ground in this one going for 131 yards on seven carries for an average of an astounding 18.7 a touch.
“We just prepared well all week,” Seidl said. “The offensive linemen blocked their hearts out and the (running) backs blocked well too. Once we get past the five or 10 yards, we’re trying to break free. We have four guys that are four completely different types of running backs. It’s hard to contain four guys like that. It wears down defenses.”
Highlands has especially had success this year out of its goal-line package. The Bluebirds put McCoy, Harris and sometimes two offensive linemen in the backfield like Jason Thome or Tyler Schweitzer to run forward and push the pile back to create space for the Bluebirds to pick up the needed yards.
“Technically, I have a guy to get,” Schweitzer said of the goal-line package. “It’s just a big pile a lot of times to where I can run through and hit the first guy I see. I hit the guy in the hole and it works out.”
The Bluebirds did throw enough passes to keep the Knights guessing on defense. McCoy completed 9-of-16 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown to four different receivers. Luke Turner again led Highlands with four catches for 93 yards and David Christian had three for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Seidl broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run to put Highlands up 7-0 in the first. After LexCath tied the game, Highlands drove to the Knight 13 and faced a 4th-and-4. McCoy ran right and scored on the quarterback draw to put Highlands up for good at 13-7.
The Blubirds extended their lead to 21-7 later in the second quarter. Harris scored from four yards out.
Following a Reece Ryan 12-yard scamper, Highlands gave itself some distance at halftime. McCoy scored on a 10-yard touchdown with 1:47 left in the half before things became interesting.
LexCath went for it on 4th-and-1 from its 47. Ryan scrambled toward the line of scrimmage and wide receiver Casey Nash ran open down the right sideline. Ryan fired the pass to Nash, but Nash missed it giving the ball back to the Bluebirds with 28 seconds remaining.
Highlands then executed its two-minute offense almost to perfection. McCoy completed a 39-yard pass to Turner with about five seconds left on 3rd-and-4 to the Knight 2. On the next play, McCoy scored again to give the Bluebirds a 35-14 halftime lead.
“We have a lot of mature, big-play guys,” Mueller said. “It’s been a thing we’ve been able to do all year long.”
LexCath scored on its first possession of the half when Ryan scored from a yard out. But the Bluebirds answered with 12 points. Christian hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass with 5:35 left in the quarter and Seidl broke free again down the left sideline for a 62-yard touchdown run.
Highlands put the finishing touches on the game in the fourth. Harris scored on touchdown runs of eight and nine yards respectively sandwiched around a Marcelis Logan score for LexCath.
Highlands will be making its 13th appearance in the state championship game since Mueller came on staff in 1994. The Bluebirds have won 10 of their 21 state championships in that time and finished runners-up in 1995 to Bowling Green and 2003 to Boyle County.