Thursday, August 28, 2014

Highlands, Campbell County prepare for county showdown

Allen Ramsey photo. Highlands sophomore running back Jared Pulsfort (91) makes a move in the scrimmage at Cincinnati St. Xavier on Friday. Highlands travels to Campbell County on Friday.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The teams may have faced off 60 times overall.

But none of those meetings have taken place at the new Campbell County High School Athletic Complex. That will change Friday when the county rivals line up for what is expected to become an annual meeting like it was between 1995 and 2004. The new stadium is entering its second season Campbell County played at Bob Miller Stadium behind the Campbell County Middle School for 69 years.

The teams renewed the series in Fort Thomas last year for the first time since then. Highlands pulled away for a 50-8 victory. The Bluebirds lead the all-time series, 51-9. The Camels have not beaten the Bluebirds since 1991. Highlands has won 12 straight meetings in the series.

The Camels are as hungry as anyone to catch the tradition-rich Bluebirds. Many thought Campbell County would be down last year.

But instead, the Camels improved their win total by a game going 8-4. They’ve lost in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs in the three straight years that former Highlands running back Stephen Lickert has been their head coach. That includes a 14-7 loss at Louisville Butler last year.

“The community and the administration are committed to building a winning program,” Lickert said. “The administration shows that commitment in many ways including hiring great teachers that also coach football so we have coaches in the building to recruit the hallways and build relationships with the kids. The community shows that commitment by supporting our kids and our teams at games, buying and wearing our team t-shirts ever year.”

Highlands improved between scrimmages against Louisville Trinity and Cincinnati St. Xavier. The Bluebirds have been breaking in many new faces on both sides of the ball after 32 seniors graduating from last year’s 13-2 Class 4A state runner-up squad.

“We’re still focusing on ourselves and trying to fix the problems we had Friday in scrimmage,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “They’re getting comfortable with what they’re doing. On Monday, we practiced in shorts and tee shirts because it was so hot.”

Senior quarterback Beau Hoge has looked impressive in the scrimmages. He completed 12-of-16 passes for 149 yards against St. Xavier. Wide receiver Alex Veneman had seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown. The Highlands offensive line blocked better against the Bombers.

The Bluebirds did not run the ball much in the scrimmages. Part of that had to do with running backs Griffin Urlage and Josh Watson being out last week. Watson did not play in either scrimmage after missing all of last year with a torn Anterior Cruciated Ligament.

Highlands moved several defensive players to the offensive side of the ball this year. Defensive linemen Bo Hebel and Matt Gall moved to the offensive line and Urlage moved from defensive back to running back. The offensive line gave Hoge better protection against St. Xavier.

“It’s tough after playing defense on the varsity level for two years,” Gall said. “But we did that because we knew it would be the best thing for the team. We’re going to be good as an offense overall. As an offensive line, we’ve gotten a lot better.”

The Highlands spread offense that has averaged in the 50s in recent years scoring-wise will go against a 3-3-5 stacked Campbell County defense. The Camels also two-platoon. They are led by senior linebackers Robert Metz and Nick Sauerbeck along with defensive back Brandon Oldendick. Highlands used to run that defense before switching to a 3-4 in recent years.

“We liked it because you can get a lot of athletes with speed on the field,” Weinrich said. “The angles for the linemen are difficult. You can do a lot of things with the coverage. They’re doing similar things. It’s a great high school defense in my opinion.”

Campbell County opened the season with a 31-14 win at East Central (Indiana) on Friday. East Central wide receiver Hunter Kammer had eight catches for 129 yards in the losing effort. That could benefit the Bluebirds who like to spread the field.

Lickert knows about the Bluebird versatility. Highlands showed the shovel pass to Zach Harris for the first time last year in the victory.

“I actually think Highlands does a great job at being good at what they do and doing what they do,” Lickert said. “Anytime you play someone early, you are going to see new wrinkles because coaches are still figuring out things about their teams. But when push comes to shove, teams go back to the core of their systems. We are not going to chase ghosts. We are going to work to defend what they have done on film and make adjustments to anything new they throw at us during the game. We are very lucky that we can make adjustments and talk to our kids after every series. We don’t have to wait until halftime.”

The Bluebird defense will take on a Campbell County spread offense that has experience on the offensive line. Senior 6-foot-5-inch, 280-pound Josh Griffith leads the Camels there along with Jordan Mason and Alex Kaufman. The Camel line averages 6-0 and 235 pounds.

The Bluebirds had success defensively against the Bombers after struggling some against Trinity. Highlands hopes to revert back to the defenses of old after struggling against balanced teams last year.

“A lot of our defense is based on speed,” said Daniel Kremer, Highlands senior defensive lineman. “That’s part of the reason I’m playing the position I play. It’s fundamentals that take away any type of weight advantage (offensive linemen) might have.”

The Camels love to run the quarterback a lot. Junior quarterback Carson Plessinger ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns against East Central. He also passed for 86 and a touchdown.

Campbell County senior running back Josh Carroll and senior wide receiver Matt Mayer hope to take pressure off Plessinger. Two years ago, Campbell County ran the read-option with quarterback Tyler Durham and running back Tyler Walsh.

“We have certain responsibilities,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. “As long as we do that and communicate, it really shouldn’t affect us. Sometimes where I think you get in trouble is overplaying things so much that you put yourself in bad position.”

The Bluebirds have battled the heat like every team in Northern Kentucky in recent weeks. Temperatures could be in the 90s on Friday. That makes proper hydration more important.

We tell them to get a half-ounce of water per pound of body weight,” Weinrich said. “On active days, it’s even more than that. We talk about proper hydration. We’re not the experts on this so we consult those that do this for a living. It’s this kind of weather today. What should I tell them about how much water they should be drinking? A lot of them are hearing what we’re saying. I’m in the cafeteria every day and these guys are doing it in every aspect.”

Lickert is entering his 11th season as a head coach. Highlands beat Covington Holmes twice when Lickert was their head coach.

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