By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
LEXINGTON – This one turned out to be the closest state semifinal win in a while.
During their state record 34-game playoff winning streak, no one had come within 21 points in the state semifinals. In their six consecutive state championship runs, no team had come within three touchdowns of the Highlands Bluebirds in the state semifinals. Highlands had won those six semifinal contests by an average of 29 points.
The host Lexington Catholic Knights (10-4) cut the Highlands 42-7 halftime lead to 42-35 with 3:45 left in the game. But the Bluebirds made the plays to pull off the 49-35 win.
“We won. That’s all that matters this time of year,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator. “We’ll take it. We’re playing next week.”
Highlands has won 15 regional championships and 14 semifinal games since Dale Mueller became Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator in 1994. The only semifinal loss came 45-6 at Rockcastle County in 2002. The average margin of victory in those contests is 19.2 points.
The Bluebirds have beaten the Knights three straight years in the same round. Lexington Catholic became the most common semifinal opponent since 1994 on Friday. Highlands beat LexCath, 61-28 in Fort Thomas last year and 42-21 in Lexington two years ago. The average margin of victory for Highlands is 22.6 points in those three games.
“We can’t give in once we’re up,” said Drew Houliston, Highlands senior quarterback. “We need to keep going. When you get this far, these teams are not going to quit. We need to realize that and keep playing (hard) until the horn sounds.”
Prior to Friday, Highlands had also faced the Rockcastle County Rockets and Bell County Bobcats twice on the road in semifinal contests. The Bluebirds beat the Rockets, 41-9 in Mount Vernon in 2000 and edged the Bobcats at Pineville in 1996 (16-14) and 2004 (15-10).
Highlands moved to 8-1 in road semifinal games in the Mueller era and 6-0 at home. The average margin of victory for Highlands is about 11.7 points and 30.5 at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
Only one visiting team has come within 28 points in Fort Thomas. Highlands edged Mason County, 21-14 in the 2003 Class 3A semifinals.
A huge Thanksgiving Day Visit:
While the wins in those previous games did not guarantee a victory Friday, visits from players of those teams often helps. Current University of Kentucky quarterback and 2012 Highlands graduate Patrick Towles stopped by practice Thursday.
“Each (team) just builds (on the tradition),” Mueller said. “The guys that played before are just such great supporters. There were other guys that came to practice just to support the guys and say some positive things to them.”
A number of former players came to Lexington for the game. That includes three seniors off last year’s team in Mitch Dee, Reid Schroeder and Quentin Murray.
Mueller earns 250th win at Highlands:
Mueller moved to 250-35 in 20 seasons as Head Coach of the Bluebirds.
That win moved him into 18th in Kentucky history. He passed Murray 43-year veteran Preston “Ty” Holland with the win. Holland’s record was 249-159-28.
Bowling Green Head Coach Kevin Wallace is not far behind Mueller at 248-96 good for 19th in Kentucky history. Wallace began his career as head coach of Warren East.
Finising off 2012 Playoff Rewind:
The Bluebirds need to beat the same five opponents in the same five rounds as last year to win another state championship.
They finish 2012 playoff rewind against Collins (12-2) in the 4A state championship at 4 p.m. at Western Kentucky on Saturday. Highlands beat Collins, 47-0 in the title game last year.
The Bluebirds beat three opponents in the same rounds for the third straight year. Highlands also beat Boyd County in the first round, Covington Catholic in the regional final and LexCath in the state semifinals in 2011. The Bluebirds beat Johnson Central in the second round and Franklin-Simpson in the state championship that year.
Another Highlands win would extend the longest current streak of football championships in the country. The Bluebirds and Honolulu ‘Iolani. But the Raiders lost in the Hawaii Division II semifinals, 28-7 to Lihue Kauai.