By G. MICHAEL GRAHAMFort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
This in-county game might become a great rivalry one day.
But on Friday, it was all Blue and White after the first quarter. The Highlands Bluebirds rolled to a 50-8 victory over the visiting Campbell County Camels in the 60th overall meeting between the two teams, but first since 2004.
Highlands ended up outgaining Campbell County, 402-196 in total offense. Quarterback Drew Houliston led the way completing 18-of-26 passes to nine different receivers. Zach Harris tallied 72 yards rushing on 10 carries and three catches for 90 yards for four touchdowns to lead Highlands and Alex Veneman had three catches for 97 yards.
The Bluebirds took the lead for good when Houliston completed two shovel passes to Zach Harris for 48 and 35 yards respectively. Highlands led 14-0 with 6:32 left in the first half and 22-0 at halftime after Harris scored on a 7-yard touchdown run and Ryan Greene scored the two-point conversion on a reverse.
“It’s a new play we put in this past week,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Football Coach/Offensive Coordinator, of the shovel pass. “They executed it pretty well. The line opened up huge holes. Zach has such great vision down the field.”
The Highlands offensive line once again blocked well. The Camels sacked Houliston just once.
“The (offensive) line is really stepping it up,” Mueller said. “We kept Scotty Turner out of the game because he was bumped up. Kyle Thurson didn’t play this week also. We probably played 10 different guys on the offensive line.”
Quarterback Avery Wood led Campbell County completing 13-of-27 passes for 131 yards. He also rushed for 50 yards on 12 carries.
The Camels drove inside the Bluebird 20 twice in the first quarter. But the Highlands defense held Campbell County to no points in the Red Zone.
“If we finish a few drives, it’s a different score. We’re going watch the film,” said Stephen Lickert, Campbell County Head Coach. “We didn’t make (plays on Friday), but we will make them. You have to execute and you can’t turn the ball over when you play them. You also have to wrap up and tackle. They have some great athletes.”
Highlands Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Brian Weinrich was not pleased with the Bluebird defense despite allowing just the one Camel score in the fourth quarter. It came when Wood found Nate Hess for a 45-yard touchdown with 6:20 left in the game.
“I feel like they were doing what they wanted to at will,” Weinrich said. “We kind of lost our focus from last week. We have to do better. We put ourselves in some situations we should not have.”
The Camels tried to throw a lot of out routes to Jake Zabonick. Zabonick finished with six catches for 62 yards.
“We used one of our best (defensive backs) in Jackson Bardo,” said Braden Hicks, Highlands senior defensive lineman. “He did a good job playing off (Zabonick). When they threw the ball out to him, (Bardo) came up and made the play.”
Highlands played without senior defensive lineman Seth Hope. The Cornell commit decided to rest because of a left ankle sprain.
“We have a lot of great (defensive) linemen,” said Jake Parker, Highlands senior defensive end. “That’s going to help us later on in the season.”
Highlands added two touchdowns in the third quarter. Harris had a 9-yard touchdown run and Veneman caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Houliston. Ryan Greene set up the play running a reverse the first time and faking it the second time and the offensive line gave Houliston plenty of time on the play.
“It has a lot to do with conditioning,” said Matt Farney, Highlands senior offensive lineman. “We started in January and went all summer to be able to run, get down and get your hands up to make a block on (opponents). When we get out there fresh, it’s a big help.”
The Bluebirds extended the margin to 43-0 when Jaylen Hayes scored on a 15-yard touchdown pass. After Hess’score made it 43-8, sophomore running back Nicholas Kendall returned the ensuing kickoff back 93 yards for a touchdown.
“At first, I wasn’t really seeing the end zone at all,” Kendall said. “Then I made a cut, saw the wide-open field and ran (hard). I had great blocking. That’s going to help us out a lot.”
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association moved the mercy rule down to a 36-point margin as opposed to 45 last year. The running clock does not stop if the opponent cuts the margin below 36 points like Campbell County did in the fourth quarter. The running clock begins at any time during the game as opposed to the second half like the orginal rule made in 2001.
Other states have the mercy rule lower. Florida sets its rule at 35 and Georgia goes even lower at 30.
That will make it difficult for Highlands to match the 2011 team’s state record of 849 points in a season. The Bluebirds put up 781 points last year.
Highlands continues action Friday against Lexington Bryan Station (1-0). The Defenders take on 2012 Class 5A champion Bowling Green at Lexington Catholic at 5 p.m. today.