G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands senior Zach Harris (center) pounces on the ball after a John Hardin onside kick attempt with about 43 seconds left in Saturday's game while teammates like Luke Brockett (88) and John Hardin's DaQuan DeVille (33) converge. Highlands held on for a 33-26 non-district victory to move to 4-0 on the year.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
RADCLIFF – Like many coaches, Highlands Bluebirds football Head Coach Dale Mueller may not be crazy about his record.
But one can only admire the body of work done since the 1973 alum came back to his alma mater in 1994. Mueller recorded his 300th win in 29 seasons as a head coach in Highlands’ 33-26 win over the John Hardin Bulldogs on Saturday.
Mueller’s record is 300-65 overall and 241-34 at Highlands with 11 state championships, including the last six in a row. Mueller guided Cincinnati Withrow to a 48-12 mark and Cincinnati Sycamore to an 11-19 mark before coming back to Fort Thomas.
“We wanted to win the game, but numbers aren’t that big of a thing to me,” Mueller said. “What really means a lot to me is being a high school football coach for so long. I’m just so blessed that this is what I can do for a living. That’s what I’ll look back on (when retired).”
The Bluebirds are 846-225-26 overall good for second in the country so about 35 percent of the wins in school history have come since Mueller became head coach. That includes a 91-3 mark since the start of 2007.
The milestone win puts him there with the elite coaches in Kentucky. Mueller’s record at Highlands ranks 21st in all-time wins in Kentucky. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association only recognizes wins in the state of Kentucky toward its coaching wins list.
Of those 20 coaches ahead of him, only five are still actively coaching in Kentucky. Longtime Newport Central Catholic Head Coach Bon Schneider (second with an overall record of 345-183-2 in 44 seasons) still assists current head coach Dan Wagner and 32-year Danville Head Coach Sam Harp (fifth at 326-106) took a job east of Nashville in Lebanon to be closer to his daughter and family who live in Hendersonville just north of Nashville.
The leader for the most wins in Kentucky is 39-year veteran Belfry Head Coach Philip Haywood. Haywood’s record is 365-124 at the 3A school located in Pike County of eastern Kentucky.
Mueller can pass two coaches this year. Longtime Murray Head Coach Preston “Ty” Holland finished 249-159-28 in 43 seasons and Hilliard Howard finished 244-69-1 in 25 seasons at Pikeville and Letcher County Central.
Improvements needed on Defense:
The Bluebirds know things need to improve on defense with Covington Catholic and Cincinnati Elder on the horizon. Highlands has allowed an average of 361.8 yards a contest on 252 plays for an average of 5.7 a play. Teams have run for 617 yards and passed for 830.
“The big plays just killed us,” said Patrick Schoepf, Highlands junior linebacker. “We just want to keep them short and get three-and-outs. Other than that, I thought we did pretty well. They didn’t pull (offensive linemen) as much as University Christian. They were more of a get downfield team.”
On the other side, the Bluebird offense averages 443 yards per game on 203 plays for an average of 8.7 yards a play. Highlands has passed for 1,316 yards and run for 456.
Record against schools in Hardin County:
Saturday’s game marked the first time in school history Highlands played a regular-season game against a team located in Hardin County just south of Louisville.
Highlands has won both meetings against John Hardin. The other one came 35-7 in the 2009 Class 5A state championship game.
The only other two times Highlands faced a team from Hardin County came when the Bluebirds beat the Elizabethtown Panthers twice for two of their state-record 22 state championships. The first came in the 1981 Class 3A title game, 40-24 in Louisville. The other came in the 1968 2A title game, 32-7 in Lexington when Mueller was in the eighth grade.
Highlands has never played North Hardin or Central Hardin. Central Hardin is in Class 6A and North Hardin is in Class 5A, District 3 with John Hardin.
More Saturdays on the Road:
Highlands plays the second of three straight road Saturday games at Paducah Tilghman on Saturday. Game time is 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
“Honestly, the bus rides are a lot of fun. It helps us focus too,” said Beau Hoge, Highlands junior wide receiver/quarterback. “We go over things on the bus. I think it’s an advantage because we have time together compared to the other team. We make sure things are down 100 percent.”
The Blue Tornado enter the game on a three-game losing streak at 1-3 overall. Tilghman opened the year edging newly-formed McCracken County, 24-23 comprised of players from the old Heath, Lone Oak and Reidland High Schools.
But since then, Tilghman has lost to Evansville (Ind.) F.J. Reitz (28-16), 1A power Mayfield (28-21) and Graves County (30-27) in overtime.
Highlands is 4-1 all-time against Tilghman. That includes the two Class 3A state championships in Louisville when Tom Duffy was head coach. The Bluebirds won the 1992 game 15-6 and the 1989 contest 27-3.
This comes a week before the annual showdown at Covington Catholic in Sept. 28. That game starts at 1 p.m. in Park Hills.
District 7-4A update:
All three Highlands district opponents played Friday. Covington Catholic also traveled west and won 18-0 over Henderson County. The Colonels are 3-1 with the only loss coming 45-7 to defending Ohio Division I champion Cincinnati Moeller. Moeller is the high school alma mater of Colonel Head Coach Dave Wirth.
Covington Holmes also improved to 3-1 with a 27-14 home win over Class 2A Walton-Verona. Holmes and first-year Head Coach Ben Nevels have only lost to undefeated Class 5A Scott, 40-14 on Aug. 30.
Harrison County fell to 2-2 with a 41-19 home loss to Mason County. The Thoroghbreds have still doubled last year’s win total.
Highlands’ overall record since starting the program in 1915 ranks second in the country only behind Valdosta of south Georgia. The Wildcats entered the year at 876-209-34.
So far, the Bluebirds have gained just one game on the Wildcats because they started their season one week earlier. Valdosta moved to 3-0 on the year with a 40-6 win over Crisp County (Georgia) on Friday.
The Wildcats started their program in 1913. They have one non-region game left before venturing into play in the rugged Class 6A (largest in Georgia), Region 1.