G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands junior defensive back Griffin Urlage (20) returns an interception in Friday's win over Campbell County while teammates like Rocco Pangallo (17), Jake Parker (37), Tyler Robinson (50), Joey Kruse (14) and Michael Ayers (36) follow. The Bluebirds battle Bryan Station on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Fort Thomas.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
This next opponent should ring a bell.
That’s because the Lexington Bryan Station Defenders (1-0 overall) are one of just two teams to come within 10 points of the Highlands Bluebirds football team during its 30-game playoff winning streak. Tony Guidugli threw a late touchdown pass to Austin Collinsworth as the Bluebirds escaped the Defenders, 28-22 in the first round of the 2008 Class 5A playoffs on their way to their second of six consecutive state championships.
The other team aside from arch-rival Covington Catholic to seriously challenge the Bluebirds during that impressive postseason run is Johnson Central. Highlands edged the Golden Eagles, 21-14 in the regional championship game in 2010 in Paintsville. The Bluebirds have otherwise outscored the competition by 1,001 points during the streak for an average of just more than 33 points per contest.
Highlands enters the game off a 50-8 thrashing of Campbell County. The 2-0 Bluebirds are 89-3 since the start of 2007 and have outscored their first two opponents, 97-25.
However, Highlands would love to start faster. None of those points have come in the first quarter. The Bluebirds and Camels were tied after the first quarter. Highlands trailed University Christian (Fla.), 10-0 at one point before reeling off 47 consecutive points.
“We need to come out with more intensity,” said Drew Houliston, Highlands senior quarterback. “A lot of that’s on me as the leader of the offense. Once we start playing some good teams, we might not come back from such a slow start.”
Injuries on the offensive line have played a role in the slow start. Highlands senior offensive linemen Kyle Thurston, Scott Turner and Kendall Kramer did not play against Campbell County. But the Bluebirds still rotated in 10 offensive linemen into the game and things clicked in the Highlands no-huddle, hurry-up offense in the second quarter.
“It’s a whole team thing,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “I could call things a little more consistent. I’ve been trying to be a little too big play early on. That is something we’re really going to look at this next game.”
The Bluebirds have put up 917 yards of total offense and allowed 524. They’ve scored on all six possessions inside the Red Zone (area between 20-yard-line and goal line) and held opponents to 2-of-6 in the Red Zone.
Houliston has completed 39-of-55 passes for about 71 percent for 691 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. Junior Jensen Feggins leads the Bluebird receivers with eight catches for 113 yards. Senior running back Zach Harris has a team-high 187 yards rushing on 22 carries and five touchdowns for an average of 8.5 yards per carry to go with five catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
Both teams run a 3-4 defense. The leaders for the Defender defense are lineman Jamar Brooks, defensive back Glenn Spencer and linebacker Dallas Bruton.
The Highlands defense faces a Bryan Station Wing-T offense that put up huge offensive numbers in the season-opening win over the 2A Murray Tigers, 47-26 in the Roy Kidd Bowl at Madison Central.
Ora “Bo” Johnson quarterbacks the Defenders. He completed 11-of-16 passes for 373 yards and six touchdowns against Murray. C.J. Walker and Tequan Claitt each snagged two touchdown passes with LaVelle Cloyd and K-Ci Carmichael nabbing one each.
Bryan Station trailed Murray, 13-6 at halftime. But Johnson completed 7-of-9 passes for 312 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Defender rally. Johnson completed 80 and 75-yard touchdown passes to Walker and a 78-yard score to Carmichael. Carmichael added a 46-yard touchdown scamper.
The Bluebirds have battled through injuries defensively, but have still held opponents to 12.5 points per game and 262 yards per contest. Junior defensive back Griffin Urlage has the only Highlands interception with Joey Kruse, Brady Murray and Braden Hicks recording two tackles for a loss each and Joey Cochran, Jake Parker and Matt Gall recovering one fumble each. Hicks and Tyler Robinson have one sack a piece.
Wing-T offenses generally do not phase the Bluebirds. They contained University Christian’s Wing-T attack after the first quarter. The Fighting Christians motioned guys one way and countered the opposite. But Highlands stayed home and contained it.
“You have to keep everything in front of you,” said Bo Hebel, Highlands sophomore defensive lineman. “They like to run a lot of comebacks and throw the ball a lot. You have to read your keys and not look in the backfield. You try to stay in your gaps no matter where the ball is at.”
Bryan Station has not played since beating Murray. The Defenders were scheduled to play two-time 5A champion Bowling Green on Saturday, but the game was cancelled because of lightning.
“They’re a good team,” Mueller said. “They play a lot of guys. They’re a team that’s really trying to be a 6A power. They’re a team that’s trying to compete with (Louisville) Trinity and St. X (Xavier).”
Bryan Station is playing a tough schedule to open the season. The Defenders also play host to Class 4A semifinalist Lexington Catholic on Sept. 13. They compete in Class 6A, District 7 with Paul Dunbar, Henry Clay and 2012 semfinalist Scott County.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. This marks the last home game for Highlands in September. The Bluebirds hit the road for three straight Saturdays after this game.