Thursday, August 14, 2014

100-year Celebration: Highlands-CovCath rivalry hit stride in 1980s

Contributed Photo. Former Highlands quarterback Patrick Towles (right) throws during the 2011 meeting at Covington Catholic. The Bluebirds won that game, 42-37 and have won 11 straight in the series. The two teams have a combined 28 state championships.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This is the final story leading into the 100th season of Highlands football.

It’s a northern Kentucky football rivalry that has a huge vibe to it every time it is said.

Highlands-CovCath.

The Highlands Bluebirds and Covington Catholic Colonels have faced off in the regular season every year since 1968. The Colonels began their program in 1967. The Bluebirds lead the all-time series, 45-17.

“Preparing for CovCath is always the same no matter what we’re doing,” said Colin Seidel, former Highlands running back and 2013 graduate. “It’s always the biggest game of the year. Everybody goes hard in practice and everyone keeps it together. No one does anything stupid during the school week.”

Things became more intense between the two starting in the 1980s when they often battled for state championships. The winner of the playoff game has gone on to win half of the two schools’ combined 28 state championships. Highlands has beaten CovCath 10 times on their way to a state championship and CovCath has beaten Highlands four times on its way to a crown.

The Highlands players often shout when they reach the end zone against CovCath. Former wide receiver Austin “Ozzie” Sheehan did a double move and burned two defenders for a touchdown in the 2011 regular season meeting.

“(Scoring touchdowns against CovCath) is 10 times better,” Sheehan said. “Their student section (Colonel Crazies) is a wild section. We look forward to playing them every year. When you score at home against them with the big crowd, it’s a great feeling. It’s something you won’t forget.”

The current players and coaches make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the rivalry. Former Highlands player Ian Goulde said former Bluebird quarterback Jared Lorenzen served as quarterback coach his senior year.

“(Lorenzen) came in and told us how much (the rivalry) meant to him,” Goulde said. “That reflected on his coaching ability. It reflected on our ability to practice hard. I was always pumped up for CovCath because of the history that it had.”

Highlands won the first meeting in 1968, 14-0. But CovCath returned the favor, 35-6 the following year.

The Bluebirds won the 3A state championship with a 15-0 campaign in 1982. That team had to go to overtime to beat Covington Catholic, 13-7 in the second round of the playoffs.

CovCath beat Highlands twice in 1988 before the Bluebirds won both meetings on their way to the 1989 3A crown, 7-3 over Paducah Tilghman. That was the senior season for current Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich. The Colonels also beat Paducah Tilghman in 1987 and 1988 for the 3A state championships.

CovCath went on to win six of the next seven meetings. Highlands beat CovCath, 14-7 in the regional championship in 1992 for its lone win during that time on its way to beating Paducah Tilghman, 15-6 in the 3A title game that year.

“That was a really exciting and special thing for us because we were not expected to win,” said Michael Mason, former Highlands player. “Covington Catholic’s quarterback was on the cover of the state championship program. We didn’t know that at the time. (CovCath) beat Cincinnati Moeller that year. It was the first time Moeller lost to a team from Kentucky.”

Recently retired Highlands Head Coach Dale Mueller finished 26-6 in 20 years against the Colonels. The Bluebirds have beaten the Colonels twice the past three years. CovCath beat Highlands, 42-6 in his first meeting against them in 1994 and 7-3 in the playoffs.

“I was a little immature and took it personally (in 1994), but I decided that instead of crying about it, it might be a good idea to prepare my team better,” Mueller said. “It was tremendous for us to have such a great rival. It pushed us all year long. We always knew that CovCath was working hard and getting ready for us and we knew if we relaxed they would be better than us. CovCath was always tough to prepare for and always had excellent players and coaches. I have great respect for the CovCath players. Guys like Sam Burchell, Matt Way, Paul Ritter, and Alex Connelly are some of my favorite people. I love their motto ‘With a Spirit That Will Never Die’ and I actually feel we all have that. It is a great rivalry and will continue to be one.”

CovCath dealt Highlands a tough 41-35 loss in the regional championship in Fort Thomas in the “Mud Bowl” on the account of bad field conditions. The Colonels went on to win the 3A state championship that year.

That spurred a rugged offseason for the Bluebirds. They came back in 1998 and scored a state-record 801 points on their way to an undefeated 15-0 campaign. They beat Louisville Waggener, 56-7 in the 3A title game.

“Everyone was so mad,” said Derek Smith, former Highlands tight end/defensive end on the offseason after the Mud Bowl. “As soon as basketball was over, we went right into football conditioning. We had conditioning drills. At every station, we’d yell, ‘Beat Colonels.’ We felt like we lost that game. The coaches felt the same way.”

The Bluebirds lost to the Colonels, 18-15 in the second round of the 2001 3A playoffs. But Highlands has only lost to CovCath twice since then.

Those losses came in 2006. Kurt Bovard caught a pass on the left side of the end zone to help CovCath upset Highlands, 29-27 on the last play of the game. The Colonels then handled the Bluebirds, 25-15 in the second round of the playoffs on their way to the 2006 3A state championship.

Former Highlands center Mitch Dee, a 2013 graduate, has two cousins who played on that team. They are Ben and Hunter Schlosser.

“I remember how terrible that was for the whole city,” Dee said. “Seeing how negatively it affected everybody was just motivation for us to continue studying CovCath. That’s why Coach Mueller does such a good job with everything he does. If you lose to CovCath, especially in the playoffs, you’re just wanting to go back at them all year. He focuses all year on CovCath. Beating CovCath is tradition around here. We worked hard to continue that tradition.”

Highlands has won 11 in a row since then. That has some questioning whether it is still a rivalry or not.

“It’s going to be a rivalry forever no matter how many more times we beat them,” Sheehan said. “It’s a team you mark on your schedule. You have to get that win.”

The annual meeting takes place in Fort Thomas this year. It will occur on Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.

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