G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands sophomore quarterback Austin Hergott (21) hands the ball off to running back James Grau (26) in Friday's game against Lexington Bryan Station while Bailey Schell (73) and Sam Little (69) block. The Bluebirds won 62-44 to improve to 90-3 since the start of 2007.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Highlands Bluebirds football team is getting a lot of guys healthy and that will make things even scarier for opponents as the season progresses.
Senior defensive lineman Seth Hope returned along with junior defensive back Andrew Abner. They’d been out with injuries, but made an impact in Friday’s 62-44 win over Lexington Bryan Station. The 22-time state champions moved to 3-0 with the win.
The Bluebird offensive line had also been banged up. Seniors Kyle Thurston, Kendall Kramer and Scott Turner did not play last week. But Highlands found chemistry in that rotation from the beginning in the win. Turner returned against Bryan Station.
“The line did a good job,” said Sam Little, Highlands senior offensive lineman. “We still have a pretty good starting five linemen. They were blocking like they were supposed to do protecting (Highlands quarterback) Drew (Houliston).”
The Highands offensive line received some more good news this week. Senior offensive lineman Johnny Kemplin originally thought he would not play this year because of back issues. But Kemplin said doctors cleared him to play this week and he could play as early as Saturday at John Hardin.
Conditioning for the No-Huddle Offense:
Highlands spends all season conditioning to run the No-Huddle, Spread offense. The Bluebirds run up to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball almost immediately after officials place it on the ground. Highlands ran 57 plays in the win.
“The guys just work out so hard all year long so they are in great shape,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “It really makes our defense get in great shape because our offense might go out there and only be out there for a minute. Really the whole team has to be in great shape.”
Eliminating the long, sustained drives:
Highlands did not score in the first quarter of the wins over University Christian (Fla.) or Campbell County. That was partially because both the Fighting Christian and Camel offenses went on long and sustained drives and ate up the clock.
Bryan Station runs a big-play, quick-strike offense like Highlands. That offense generally does not eat up the playclock. But the Bluebird defense came through on third down holding the Defenders to just 3-of-8 and 1-of-4 on fourth down.
“I thought we did well in the first half,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator. “We did what we wanted to do. We gave up one play. It happens. Then our twos got some great experience against a great offense. So it was a great night overall.”
Approaching Coaching Milestones:
Mueller earned his 299th victory as a head coach Friday. Mueller’s overall record is 299-65, including 240-34 in his 20th season as head coach of the Bluebirds.
Mueller finished 48-12 as head coach at Cincinnati Withrow and 11-19 at Cincinnati Sycamore before returning to his alma mater in 1994. Highlands has 11 state championships since Mueller became head coach including six in a row dating back to 2007.
Thoughts on New Mercy Rule:
Mueller gives Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett and staff a lot of credit for the way they handle a lot of things from the playoffs to spring football and the acclimation of pads. Tackett even earned a new four-year contract extension in July.
But Mueller said he does not agree with the new Mercy Rule originally created in 2001. The rule specifies that the running clock occurs when a team takes a 36-point lead unlike 45 last year.
“I’d rather we have no mercy rule because the guys from Bryan Station came here to play a game,” Mueller said. “They wanted to play Highlands and didn’t want the game cut short. They didn’t mind what the score would have been. They’d have loved to have played another 10 minutes of football.”
Many sophomores have tasted their first varsity action this year with the exception of Jared Daugherty. Daugherty kicked off for the Bluebirds last years as a freshman.
This comes after two winter weight lifting and conditioning programs with the upperclassmen and coaches. Many look forward to the experience since elementary school.
“It’s a dream come true. I remember coming to (Fort Thomas) Junior League camp when I was in the second grade,” said Conner Welsch, Highlands sophomore outside linebacker. “I always looked up to (older Highlands football players). I thought it was the coolest thing just to get an autograph from one of those guys. Then to play is something special. I really appreciate the experience.”
Class 4A, District 7 Notes:
Highlands district rivals Harrison County and Covington Holmes also played Friday. The Thoroghbreds (2-1) lost for the first time this year, 28-19 to Montgomery County and the Bulldogs (2-1) beat Lloyd Memorial, 34-28.
Covington Catholic (2-0) faces defending Ohio Division I champion Cincinnati Moeller at 1 p.m. today.
Series Records vs. Lexington teams:
The Bluebirds moved to 22-9-2 all-time against squads from Lexington, including 4-1 against Bryan Station.
The most common opponent for the Bluebirds is Lafayette. Highlands is 9-5-2 against the Generals. They are 5-1 against Lexington Catholic, including state semifinal wins the last two years and 2-0 against Dunbar and 2-2 against Henry Clay.
Saturdays on the Road:
Highlands travel on three consecutive Saturdays starting with a trip to Elizabethtown to face 5A semifinalist John Hardin (2-1) at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs are coming off a 17-7 win over Meade County on Friday and have a new head coach in Chad Lewis. John Hardin was undefeated last year until losing 14-13 in the final minutes to eventual 5A champion Bowling Green.
The Bluebirds then travel to Paducah Tilghman (1-1) on Sept. 21 for another 7 p.m. contest. The drive is about 5.5 hours from Fort Thomas to Paducah. The Blue Tornado are coming off an 8-4 season last year losing 28-20 to Monroe County in the 3A second round last year. Tilghman won the 3A championship, 21-0 over Somerset in 2009.
Then the big one occurs when Highlands ventures to Park Hills to battle the arch-rival Covington Catholic Colonels at 1 p.m. on Sept. 28.