By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
PARK HILLS – They picked an excellent Saturday afternoon to turn in their most complete football game of the year.
The Highlands Bluebirds came out determined from the opening kickoff and dominated the host Covington Catholic Colonels, 42-6 to stay undefeated and earn the valuable leg up in the Class 4A, District 7 race. Highlands (6-0) also avoided a potential second-round road trip to eastern Kentucky and could be playing at home in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
“It was a matter of getting focused for the games that count,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach. “This is a game that counts for us. In reality, we play a 10-game regular season. But CovCath is The Game. I was really pleased with the way the guys played (Saturday).”
Injury-riddled Covington Catholic (3-2) may once again have to go to Paintsville in the second round of the playoffs just to earn another rematch with Highlands. The Johnson Central Golden Eagles (5-0) are heavily favored to win District 8.
The Bluebirds outgained the Colonels, 358-156 in total offense and garnered 18 first downs to 12 for CovCath. They dominated to the point that the running clock started with 7:11 left in the third quarter. Highlands succeeds by keeping things simple for the players.
“I think in football if you get too much going on in your brain, you can’t react,” Mueller said. “We really try to do that offensively and defensively. We use simple stuff that we can execute.”
A good portion of the home side left in the third quarter. That included the CovCath student section known as the Colonel Crazies.
Highlands saw seniors Drew Houliston and Zach Harris turn in another strong performance. Houliston finished 18-of-22 throwing the ball for 307 yards and three touchdowns.
Houliston completed passes to eight different receivers before sophomore Austin Hergott came in and completed 1-of-4 passes to a ninth receiver. Ryan Greene led the Bluebirds with six catches for 61 yards and Evan Allen had three for 38 yards and a touchdown. Juniors Beau Hoge and Jensen Feggins followed with two catches each for 82 and 65 yards respectively.
Harris rushed the ball 16 times for 101 yards and three touchdowns. All of his touchdowns came in the second quarter as the offensive line blocked well again.
“We’re just improving every day getting better and better,” said Nick True, Highlands senior offensive lineman. “We’re aggressive and keeping our hands back not trying to get swung right away. We’re also moving our feet. That’s what it is. We don’t let up on anything.”
The Colonels entered the game having allowed just 58 points all season. They shut out Henderson County and Boone County.
“It is definitely the last time we (seniors) are playing CovCath (in Park Hills),” Harris said. “So we came out more fired up than ever. We put it on them right from the start. It all took care of itself. We just executed.”
The Bluebird defense put a lot of pressure on the young CovCath skill position players. CovCath sophomore quarterback Ben Dressman completed 11-of-21 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. He also led the team with 39 rushes on nine carries. CovCath played without injured starting quarterback junior Adam Wagner and senior running back Luke Bir among others.
“We knew they (CovCath wide receivers) were small but quick so we didn’t want them to get behind the defensive backs,” said Jackson Bardo, Highlands senior defensive back. “We kept the game in front of us, came up and made the plays. That was pretty much the game plan.”
Highlands picked off Ben Dressman twice. Braden Hicks had one on an attempted screen and Griffin Urlage had the other in the end zone with less than 15 seconds left in the first half.
The Bluebirds scored quickly on their first two possessions. Houliston hit Allen from 12 yards in the short corner of the right side of the end zone with 9:37 left in n the first quarter before throwing a nice long pass to Feggins for a 54-yard score with 5:07 left to put Highlands up 14-0. Highlands sophomore kicker Jared Dougherty made all six extra-point attempts.
“You could definitely tell when we were up a couple touchdowns, it was like they were slowly going downhill,” said Thomas Wrobleski, Highlands senior linebacker. “It was a hot day and they were getting tired. We drove it down the field every time and that kills their momentum.”
Highlands put the game away with three scores in the second quarter. Harris scored on 17, 14 and 18-yard runs respectively often bulldozing Colonels on his way to the end zone. The Bluebirds led 35-0 at halftime.
The Bluebirds extended their lead to 42-0 with 7:11 left in the third. Hoge caught a crossing pass and juked several Colonel defenders on his way to a 59-yard score.
The lone CovCath score came with 6:09 left in the game. Sam Dressman took a pass from his younger brother 32 yards to the house. Sam Dressman finished with a team-high five catches for 105 yards.
The Bluebirds play host to the Harrison County Thorobreds (2-4) on Friday continuing District 7 action. Game time is 7 p.m.