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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bluebird Notebook: Tough schedule pays off

G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands junior Patrick Schoepf (33) hones in on Ashland running back Josh Vaughn (32) in Friday's game. The Bluebirds beat the Tomcats, 56-6 in the second round of the playoffs.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

It may have been rough traveling some.

But the tough schedule for Highlands is paying off. The Bluebirds are 11-1 and headed to the third round of the playoffs for the seventh straight year.

The regular season schedule saw Highlands play nine teams with winning records in 2012. Some of those teams will be playing for regional championships next weekend.

The two out-of-state opponents are still playing. University Christian (Fla.) sits at 9-2 and plays in the second round of the playoffs on Friday and 9-2 Cincinnati Elder takes on rival Moeller in the second round of the Ohio playoffs tonight.

The Bluebirds hit the road for three straight Saturdays in September and all three will play for region championships. That included a 42-6 win over Covington Catholic on Sept. 28. The Colonels have won seven straight to move to 10-2 since then.

John Hardin (10-2) has won eight in a row since losing 33-26 to Highlands on Sept. 14. The Bulldogs take on Bullitt East for the region crown in Class 5A.

Paducah Tilghman (7-5) lost to Henderson County (27-14) six days after playing host to Highlands. But the Blue Tornado have rebounded to win six in a row and will take on South Warren for a Class 3A region championship.

“That’s why we schedule as tough of games as we can,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “We try to play (Cincinnati) Elder at The Pit. That’s why we played (University Christian) of Florida to get ready for this game. It’s all geared for this game.”

Campbell County finished the season 8-4 in its third season under Head Coach Stephen Lickert, a 1997 Highlands graduate. The Camels fell 14-7 at Louisville Butler in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs on Friday.

Warren Central (6-6) and Lexington Bryan Station (5-6) also advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Graves County edged the Dragons, 28-27 in double overtime in Class 5A and undefeated Scott County drilled the Defenders, 55-7 in the second round of the 6A playoffs.

Krusing to Touchdowns:

Highlands senior linebacker Joey Kruse recorded his second fumble recovery for a touchdowns in the playoffs on a 22-yarder in the third quarter. He leads the Bluebirds with three defensive touchdowns this year.

Highlands has five defensive touchdowns this year after recording just one last year. Alex Shadle returned an interception for a score in the first round of the playoffs against Boyd County and Grayson Heck returned a fumble against Harrison County.

Approaching the record for touchdown passes:

Highlands has 56 touchdown passes on the season good for second in school history.

The Bluebirds are averaging about five per game and could surpass the school record Friday. The 2000 team quarterbacked by Gino Guidugli had 59 touchdown passes.

“It’s great being able to play so many different receivers,” Mueller said. “We played Nick Kendall. He’s been our (main running) back those first two playoff games. Guys just get in and execute so well.”

Highlands needs 12 more passing yards to hit 4,000 on the season. Drew Houliston has completed 181-of-260 passes for 3,111 yards, 44 touchdowns and just two touchdowns.

Eighteen different Bluebirds have catches this year. Junior Jensen Feggins still leads the way with 42 grabs for 896 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Better on Kickoffs this year:

Highlands has given up just one kickoff or punt return for a touchdown this year after allowing several last year. Good coverage downfield has been the key.

“I go down and force (kickoff returners) back inside so we can make the tackle,” said Hank Johnson, Highlands sophomore defensive back. “You sprint down as fast as you can then break down once you get 10 yards from the ball.”

On the other side, Highland has returned one punt and three kickoffs for a touchdown. Feggins returned a punt against Harrison County. Nick Kendall, Jaylen Hayes and Brandon Hergott have returned punts for scores.

Last two Class 4A unbeatens fall:

Boyle County and Johnson Central came into the second round of the playoffs unbeaten at 11-0.

Both district champions lost at home Friday. Covington Catholic ventured to Paintsville and won 42-14. Then over in Danville, Mercer County shocked the Rebels, 31-30. The Titans (8-4) battle Lexington Catholic (9-3) for the Region 3 crown on Friday.

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