|Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands senior quarterback Beau Hoge (7) takes a snap while Griffin Urlage (20) makes a move in Friday's scrimmage against Louisville Trinity. The Bluebirds travel to Cincinnati St. Xavier for their second scrimmage on Friday.|
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
In previous years, the Highlands Bluebirds football team played just one scrimmage against Louisville Trinity.
But when University Christian (Florida) could not work things out to return to Fort Thomas, things opened up for another scrimmage. Highlands will take on another tough opponent in that scrimmage when it travels to Tom Ballaban Field on Friday to take on the Ohio Division I power Cincinnati St. Xavier Bombers of the Greater Catholic League South. Game time is 7 p.m. in Cincinnati.
As of Monday, Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich was not sure what format both teams would use in the scrimmage. The Highlands varsity teams have played three-quarter scrimmages against Louisville Trinity for two straight years. Weinrich called Friday a “glorified practice” for both teams.
“We felt it was another opportunity to go against a different team, different looks and (the kids) get more excited,” Weinrich said. “We felt it could help us. In terms of personnel, I don’t much about them. All we’re concerned about is reviewing our film from last Friday, figuring out what we need to work on, work on it then try to clean that up we start playing for real next Friday (on Aug. 29) against Campbell County.”
St. Xavier is coming off a 5-6 season last year. The Bombers lost 42-17 at GCL South rival and two-time state Division I champion Cincinnati Moeller in the first round of the playoffs last year.
The Bombers have lost in the first round of the playoffs the past two years. Steve Specht is entering his 11th season as head coach of the Bombers. St. X plays a tough schedule that includes Moeller, Cincinnati Elder whom Highlands will play for a fourth straight season in October, East St. Louis (Illinois), Cleveland St. Ignatius and Louisville St. Xavier.
“Highlands is always a very talented team that plays the same type of football we see year to year in the GCL South,” Specht said. “They are very disciplined, physical and skilled so the opportunity to scrimmage them provides us an opportunity to see our weaknesses and the things we need to ‘clean up’ before the start of the season. I’ve known Coach Weinrich for a number of years and believe Highlands couldn’t have found a better person so carry on the Highlands legacy.”
Highlands lost 31-6 to Louisville Trinity in the scrimmage Friday. The Shamrocks ran a 50 defense and put a lot of pressure on quarterback Beau Hoge.
“That was the first time we got out there under the lights with a team that ran something different than what we run,” Weinrich said. “We had no idea coverage-wise what they were going to be doing so it took us a while to get the proper reads. We’re worried about ourselves the first couple weeks.”
Highlands hopes to continue to build on the positives from that scrimmage. The inexperienced offensive line led by players like senior Lou Bunning and junior Nathan Raleigh will face an experienced St. X 3-3-5 defensive scheme that Highlands used to run. The Bombers return five of six starters from last year in the front six and two in the secondary.
That includes senior linebacker Justin Hilliard. The Ohio State commit has 98 career tackles. Senior Bomber defensive tackle Simean Lane has 84 career tackles and 3.5 career sacks. Lane has an offer from Illinois.
“We’re mainly trying to become a faster offensive line because we don’t have the size we had last year,” Raleigh said. “We need to give (Hoge) some more time. We need to work on our pass protection. (Hilliard) is really quick. We need to stay in front of him and get as many shots as we can on him.”
Senior wide receiver Alex Veneman was a bright spot for the Bluebirds against Trinity. Hoge completed his lone touchdown pass to Veneman in the scrimmage. The Bluebirds missed some big plays offensively by a few inches in the scrimmage.
The Highlands 3-4 defense also wants to make some strides. Senior defensive lineman D.J. Mills had a pair of sacks against Trinity and senior defensive back Grayson Heck had an interception.
“They’re buying what we’re selling them,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. “They’re trusting what we’re telling them. They’ve been getting after it. We didn’t line up a couple times (against Trinity) and it hurt us. Half of the battle is lining up properly on defense.”
St. Xavier runs a Pro-style I-formation offense with a variety of looks. The Bombers have two sophomores battling for the quarterback job including Sean Clifford. Specht likes where the Bomber offensive line stands currently.
“I like our leadership more than anything,” Specht said. “There is a different sense of focus than I have seen from the past couple of years.”
The Bombers struggled to run the ball last year. They rushed for more than 100 yards as a team just three times last year. Senior running back Ben Glines returns after recording 1,180 all-purpose yards last year including 715 on the ground. But Specht said Glines, a Boston College commit, will not play Friday.
“We’ve been watching film on them. We’re just working on our plays and getting better, faster and stronger,” said John Abner, Highlands senior defensive lineman. “We’re looking forward to being more aggressive than we were in the Trinity scrimmage because we’re going to work on a bunch of tackling drills this week. We’re going to get used to wrapping up.”
The teams have met eight times in the regular season. St. Xavier leads the all-time series, 5-3. But Highlands beat St. Xavier, 12-7 in 2009 in Fort Thomas on its way to finishing third in the final USA Today Super 25 poll and an undefeated season.
The season-opener at Campbell County starts at 7 p.m. Highlands won last year’s contest 50-8 in Fort Thomas.