G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands wide receiver Brandon Hergott (middle) finds a lot of open space after making a catch in Saturday's game against University Christian while teammate Jensen Feggins (16) follows. The six-time defending state champion Bluebirds face Campbell County at 7 p.m. Friday.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
They do not want this football game to be about them.
But when the pupil and staff are trying to implement similar concepts that have made the mentor and staff successful over the years, it’s a storyline that is hard to overlook. Highlands Bluebirds Head Coach Dale Mueller and Campbell County Head Coach Stephen Lickert both said they cheer for each other and their teams when they’re not playing each other.
That one game takes place on Friday in Fort Thomas when the Bluebirds and Camels meet on the gridiron for the first time since 2004 at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. The 60th meeting between the two county rivals takes place at 7 p.m.
Lickert graduated from Highlands in 1997. The former running back and inside linebacker helped Highlands to the 1996 Class 3A state championship – a 21-14 win over Hopkinsville. That marked the first state championship for the Bluebirds under Mueller.
Lickert owns a 48-51 record in nine seasons as a head coach. He previously led the Dayton and Covington Holmes programs before coming to Campbell County. The Camels won their first two district championships in 31 years under Lickert’s guidance in his first two years in Alexandria.
“I’m a real fan of what (Lickert is) doing at Campbell County,” Mueller said. “You watch them on film. They’re guys are playing hard. He’s getting a lot of guys involved. He’s been positive with them. The guys like playing football at Campbell County. You can tell he’s working hard and it means a lot to him.”
Lickert is trying to implement some of the things he learned from his playing days at Highlands. The Camels and Bluebirds both run Spread offenses.
The explosive Highlands offense put up 518 yards in total offense in the season-opening 47-17 win over University Christian (Fla.). Senior quarterback Drew Houliston completed 21-of-30 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Ryan Greene led the way with five catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns with tailback Zach Harris rushing for 115 yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns.
Highlands has a number of players who can beat opponents. Houliston can throw to a number of wide receivers such as juniors Jensen Feggins and Justin Weyer. They do a great job running their routes and exploiting holes in opposing defenses.
“Since we only play one side of the ball, it definitely helps,” Weyer said. “During practice, we take a lot of repetitions. Every rep, we try to run like we’re in a game. That really helps us translate that into games.”
Highlands tends to wear teams down that do not two-platoon such as University Christian. But Campbell County has also two-platooned since Lickert took over as head coach in 2011.
“Our kids are in great shape and will be able to play the full game,” Lickert said. “We need to be able to maintain the tempo of the Highlands offense and we feel we have the depth to do this. The outcome of the game will not be decided because we are tired and worn out.”
The Bluebirds will face a 3-3-Stack Camel defense. Highlands ran it before going to a 3-4 a few years ago. Senior defensive lineman Patrick Berkemeyer leads the way on that side for the Camels.
“It’s a real adaptable type defense,” Mueller said. “Most teams that do it try to keep that 3-3 consistent. They’re often able to stop the run with those six guys then still have those other five guys as pass defenders. It’s a nice concept. They’re doing it well. (Houliston) has to make the read and run the play.”
The Camels come into the game off a 27-7 home win over the Newport Wildcats. Lickert said Campbell County needs to do a better job holding on third down. Newport’s lone touchdown came on an interception return in the fourth quarter so the Camel defense yielded no points.
Senior Avery Wood took over at quarterback this year for standout Tyler Durham. Durham rushed for 1,829 yards on 262 carries and 25 touchdowns for an average of about seven yards a carry and completed 75-of-154 passes for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Lickert said the Camels are still working on their passing game.
The Camels also graduated a good running back in Tyler Walsh. Brandon Morris, Alex Howard and Eli Matthews had rushing touchdowns against Newport. Wood can throw to fellow senior wide receiver Jake Zabonick. The Campbell County offensive line is led by senior Logan Schneider.
“Their offense is really good. They’re sound at what they do,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator. “They have a plan and execute it. They have some guys who can catch the ball. The quarterback is a dual-threat. Their offensive line is playing well. We have to keep getting better at what we do.”
Highlands put constant pressure on the University Christian quarterbacks despite missing some key players because of injuries. That’s where the Bluebird depth came into play. Senior standout defensive lineman Seth Hope got chop blocked early in the game and suffered a high left ankle sprain. His status is maybe for Friday.
“We try to be really specific on their offense. We try not to fall into bad habits against our offense in the summer,” said Rocco Pangallo, Highlands junior linebacker. “We try to change it up. (Coach Weinrich) specifies doing our jobs right. We’re really good at staying focused. If we’re down by 25 points, we’re at that same level.”
Lickert knows about the unique atmosphere at Cecil Memorial Stadium. Teams often become intimidated by the surroundings.
“The atmosphere only bothers people when people let it bother them,” Lickert said. “There is not a lot of room on the visitor’s sidelines, but that is something that is not in our control. We do not worry about things that are out of our control. We only concern ourselves with things that are in our control.”
Lickert faced off against the Bluebirds as Head Coach at Covington Holmes twice in 2007 and 2008. Highlands dominated both matchups winning them, 52-14 and 70-6 respectively.
The Bluebirds enter the contest 50-9 all-time against the Camels. The only other team Highlands has beaten more is Dixie Heights. The Bluebirds own an overall record of 62-8 against the Colonels.