By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The train shot out of the gate a lot faster in this game.
By the time everyone in attendance blinked, the Highlands Bluebirds football team put up a typical 27 points on the scoreboard in the first quarter before adding 28 more in the second quarter to build a 55-14 halftime advantage in their 62-44 non-district win over the Lexington Bryan Station Defenders on Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. Undefeated Highlands (3-0) had not scored any points in the first quarters of the previous two games against University Christian (Fla.) and Campbell County.
But the Bluebirds made sure that changed quickly on their first possession. They fed the ball to senior standout running back Zach Harris and he finished off the 80-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown on a swing pass from Drew Houliston just 1:56 into the game and Highlands never looked back in improving to 90-3 since the start of 2007.
Highlands scored on all eight possessions of the first half. The Bluebirds outgained the Defenders, 459-206 in total offense in that half and 521-455 for the game.
Harris and quarterback Drew Houliston once again paced the Highlands attack. Houliston completed 15-of-22 passes for 311 yards and six touchdowns. Harris finished with 110 yards rushing on 13 carries and two touchdowns to go with four catches for 81 yards and two more touchdowns.
“Our focus all week was to get off to a good start,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “The guys really responded. They just executed well right off the bat.”
The duo had plenty of help. Evan Allen had three catches for 46 yards and Jensen Feggins grabbed two touchdown passes for 45 yards.
The Highlands offensive line gave Houliston plenty of time. The Defenders did not sack him once.
Bryan Station made the score more respectable in the second half. The Defenders kept their best players in the game while the Bluebirds played many reserves. Bryan Station won the second half, 30-8.
The Defenders also ran a Spread offense. Quarterback Ora Johnson completed 32-of-49 passes for 404 yards. CJ Walker led the way with nine catches for 62 yards with Tequan Claitt catching eight passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. Walker also had three kick returns for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Defender wide receivers K-Ci Carmichael and Ke-I Carmichael added five catches each for 68 and 66 yards respectively. K-Ci Carmichael had two touchdowns.
Highlands recorded 27 first downs to 21 for Bryan Station. The Bluebirds also scored on all five trips to the Red Zone and the Defenders converted on 3-of-4 trips inside the Bluebird 20.
“We were concerned about keeping the quarterback in the pocket,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator. “They have good athletes and they’re going to be a good team as the season goes along.”
Highlands faced a Spread offense last week in Campbell County. But Bryan Station threw the ball better. The Bluebirds contained the Defender offense for the most part in the first half. Johnson rolled out of the pocket and even scrambled when things broke down.
“We’ve been sticking to keeping the quarterback contained in practice,” said Michael Ayers, Highlands senior linebacker. “We knew (Johnson) had some talent. We wanted to keep him in front, wrap up and make tackles.”
Highlands extended the lead to 20-0 with 3:40 left in the first quarter. Harris scored from a yard out and added a 23-yard touchdown on another shovel pass after a muffed punt gave the Bluebirds the ball at the Defender 23.
After Claitt scored on a 76-yard pass from Johnson, Harris scored again from a yard out. Jared Dougherty’s extra-point kick gave the Bluebirds a 27-7 lead before Walker returned the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Highlands led 27-14 after the first quarter.
Highlands extended its lead by outdoing its previous season-high of 27 points in a quarter with 28 in the second quarter. The Bluebirds scored 27 points in the third quarter of the season-opening win over University Christian.
Luke Brockett started the scoring with a 35-yard touchdown reception. Feggins scored his two touchdowns from 12 and 33 yards out and Hayes had a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Defenders cut the margin to 55-28 entering the fourth quarter. Johnson scored on a 2-yard run and K-Ci Carmichael hauled in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Johnson. Bryan Station then cut the lead to 19 at 55-36 after K-Ci Carmichael scored from 21 yards out with 11:48 left in the game.
“We put our twos in and they kept their ones in and were doing onside kicks, which I don’t blame them at all,” Mueller said. “They were trying to win the game. Their ones were better than our twos. They have some guys that can score quickly. We had to put our ones back in even with the running clock. That sent a message that our ones are pretty good.”
But Highlands put its first-string offense back in the game and put up a quick touchdown. Houliston found Alex Veneman in one-on-one coverage for a 52-yard touchdown to put Highlands up 62-36.
“We were just trying to pass the ball so the twos could get back in,” Veneman said. “I just got open and scored the touchdown. I just try to run faster than (opposing defensive backs) and I succeeded that time. The only thing I think about is trying to catch the ball and not miss the ball.”
The Bluebird defense ended another Bryan Station drive in the fourth quarter when Rocco Pangallo picked off a Johnson pass. Seth Hope added a fumble recovery for the Bluebirds in the first half.
Bryan Station’s last score came with 2:09 left in the game. Marcus Floyd scored on an 8-yard pass from Johnson.
Highlands continues action on Saturday at John Hardin in Elizabethtown. Game time is 6 p.m.