By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Highlands Bluebirds football team has a knack for obliterating laws of averages, especially against district opponents not named Covington Catholic.
The average margin of victory for Highlands against district opponents outside Covington Catholic since the start of 2007 was about 48 points entering Friday’s contest. The Bluebirds bested that average by 29 in a 77-0 victory over the visiting Harrison County Thorobreds in Class 4A, District 7 action at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
The undefeated 7-0 Bluebirds have hit the Harrison County (2-5) record book three straight years. Highlands also beat Harrison County, 68-0 two years ago. No team had scored more points in a game against the Thorobreds at that point in school history. The Bluebirds bested that total by a point last year in a 69-10 win in Cynthiana. Harrison County’s program is in its 41st season compared to the 99th for Highlands.
“It was a game where the ones played longer than we would have liked to,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “But we don’t have a game next week. We’re playing (Covington) Holmes (in two weeks). We just need some time in the next couple weeks before we get to (Cincinnati) Elder.”
Highlands improved to 94-3 since the start of 2007. The Bluebirds also moved to 849-225-26 all-time with the win.
The point total came nowhere near the record for the most points in a game in Kentucky history. Louisville Male set that record way back in 1913 scoring 149 against Tharp. Teams need to score in triple digits to make the record book, which is pretty tough to do because the running clock starts when opponents go up by 36 or more points. Dixie Heights scored 100 points in a win over Newport in 1969.
This marked the first shutout of the year for Highlands. The Bluebirds have outscored both district opponents 119-6. They entered the game off a 42-6 at Covington Catholic on Saturday.
“Anytime you shut a team out, we’re excited about that,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator. “We just have to keep getting better at what we do. We need to get stronger, faster and quicker and focus on our fundamentals. I thought we made a big step with a lot of guys in certain positions.”
The Bluebirds scored on 9 of their 10 possessions. The only time they did not score was their final possession of the first half with the running clock. They drove to the Harrison County 23 but ran out of time despite calling all three timeouts. Highlands threw an incomplete pass into the end zone with 17 seconds left.
Highlands passed the ball all but two times in the game similar to last year. The Bluebirds outgained the Thorobreds, 441-185 in total offense including 439-108 in the air on 26 plays. They started the majority of their drives in Thorobred territory thanks to three turnovers, a bad punt and some good punt returns.
The Bluebird offensive line again protected well for quarterbacks Drew Houliston and Beau Hoge. Houliston completed 11-of-14 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns all in the first half including his first nine for 190 yards. Hoge completed 9-of-10 for 190 yards and five scores in the second half. Houliston also had both Highlands rushes for two yards.
“I think because (the offensive linemen) got a lot of reps in the entire game, they got better on their feet,” said Bailey Schell, Highlands junior tight end/offensive lineman. “You’re only doing one thing the entire time so you keep practicing the same thing. We’ve been watching a lot of film studying different blitzes. We go against the scout defense that tries really hard. That helps a lot.”
Junior Jensen Feggins had four catches for 123 yards and a touchdown to lead the Bluebirds with Alex Veneman and Zach Harris making three catches each for 84 and 74 yards respectively and two touchdowns a piece. Jaylen Hayes followed them with two catches for 35 yards and two touchdowns and Luke Brockett had two catches for 26 yards and a touchdown.
“(The passing game) was pretty darn good,” Mueller said. “It puts a lot of pressure (on opposing defenses) because we can throw the ball 60-65 yards down the field and down the sidelines so you have to cover such a big area. That leaves the running game up the middle or out wide. It makes it difficult to cover.”
Harrison County junior quarterback Robbie Stroub completed 17-of-37 passes for 108 yards. Grant Carr led the Thorobred receivers with four catches for 35 yards. The Thorobreds played without senior Zach Royce. The Thorobreds ran a mixture of I-formation and spread sets and gained 14 first downs to 11 for the Bluebirds but could not convert on fourth down on a couple drives into Highlands territory.
“We were honestly worried about doing our jobs,” said Joseph Dressman, Highlands sophomore linebacker. “It’s not about focusing on one aspect of the game. It hurts you on the football field when you think a lot. When it is something simple, it comes faster.”
Highlands scored just 35 seconds into the game. Harris took a shovel pass and scored from 26 yards out. Harris scored on another 25-yard shovel pass with 9:32 left in the quarter. That came after Braden Hicks tipped a Stroub pass and Michael Ayers intercepted it and returned it to the Harrison County 27.
The scoring run was far from over. Veneman scored on a receiver screen pass from nine yards out and Feggins returned a punt back 69 yards for a touchdown before another Harrison County led to the final score of the first quarter. Harrison County tried to kick a field goal, but the snap was high and junior Grayson Heck returned it 65 yards for a touchdown with 39 seconds left to put Highlands up 35-0 after the first quarter.
The Bluebirds scored just one touchdown in the second quarter. Houliston found Veneman for a 29-yard strike with 11:44 left in the quarter to put Highlands up 42-0.
Hoge threw three touchdown passes in the third quarter to give Highlands a 63-0 advantage. They were a 14-yarder to Brockett, a 49-yarder to Feggins and a 19-yarder to Hayes. The Hayes score came after Highlands sophomore defensive back Brad Broering recovered a Harrison County fumble on a kickoff.
“It is nerve-racking,” Broering said of chasing a fumble. “You have the decision to pick it up or jump on it. I thought the best decision was to jump on it. We take five minutes of practice every day picking up fumbles so that helped out a lot.”
Hoge threw two more in the fourth quarter to finish the scoring. Hoge threw a 2-yard score to Justin Weyer and a 16-yarder to Hayes.
Highlands moved to 2-0 in district play and has a bye week before concluding district action Oct. 18. The Bluebirds will welcome Covington Holmes (4-2) to Fort Thomas for a 7 p.m. contest.