Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bluebirds 'outmatch' Bulldogs, 49-7



Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands wide receiver Alex Veneman (right) reaches up for a touchdown catch against John Hardin sophomore defensive backs Korie Cleveland (center) and Darian Keener (left) in the first quarter of Friday's game. Veneman had eight catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns in Highlands' 49-7 win.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

Some of their own faithful did not see them posting many blowouts like previous teams have done.

But they did just that in non-district play in their home opener at David Cecil Memorial Stadium on Friday. The Highlands Bluebirds displayed their versatile, balanced spread offense and played stellar defense in their 49-7 domination of the John Hardin Bulldogs. They scored 42 straight points in the win.

Highlands (3-0) moved to 103-5 since the start of 2007 and 858-227-26 all-time in its 100th season. The Bluebirds have not lost to a Kentucky team at home since 2006 and have lost just once at home since then. That came 38-24 to Cincinnati Elder two years ago.

John Hardin fell to 0-4 battling a lot of injuries in addition to youth and a tough schedule. The Bulldogs had not lost three in a row since 2006.

“Once again, we were just outmatched,” said Chad Lewis, John Hardin Head Coach. “Highlands is a premier program in the state of Kentucky.”

The Bluebirds outgained the Bulldogs, 515-171 in total offense. That included 307-0 through the air in their versatile spread attack.

The Bulldogs had no answers defensively for the Beau Hoge-to-Alex Veneman connection in their 4-4 defense. Hoge completed 14-of-16 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. Veneman had eight catches for 194 yards and two scores. Hoge did not run the ball as much as he did in the wins over Campbell County and Lexington Bryan Station.

“I was so surprised with how we came into the game and started out,” said Brandon Lichtenberg, Highlands junior offensive lineman. “That first touchdown run we thought they had scared us for sure. We’re really glad it came back. We felt like we did our job and can do even better.”

Seven different Bluebirds had receptions. Cashel Coughlin and Mitch Cain had two receptions for 20 and 10 yards respectively.

Highlands rushed for 208 yards on 39 carries. Griffin Urlage led the way going for 129 yards on 15 carries. He also had a reception for 29 yards.

“Our offensive line blocked fantastic,” said Jason Lynch, Highlands assistant coach. “The biggest thing we saw (Friday) is they’re starting to come together and understand the scheme. The kids hit the holes fast and we caught the ball well. It was our best all-around performance this year.”

John Hardin had been throwing the ball more this year. But junior quarterback Shay Stone did not complete any of his five passes. Josh Miller led the Bulldogs with 65 yards rushing on 15 carries in their double-slot Wing-T sets.

The Bulldogs had one drive where they moved the ball a lot against the Highlands 3-4 defense. But the Bluebird defensive line led by the likes of linemen such as Daniel Kremer and John Abner dominated the line of scrimmage.

“One of the great things about this game is it came down to trust,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. “A couple times when we didn’t do that, they were able to get some things on us. When we trusted what we’re supposed to trust and did what we’re supposed to do, that was the difference. One of the things we focused on this week was getting to the ball and driving them backwards.”

The Bluebirds have been playing without injured senior defensive lineman D.J. Mills. Mills recently had surgery and had a cast around his left arm and hand Thursday. He is attempting to recover from an injury suffered in the win at Campbell County.

The Highlands linebackers also did their parts to contain the Bulldog offense. Senior defensive back James Hinkle recently returned from a concussion.

“If you don’t read your key, you’re going to do it wrong and it leads to an easy touchdown,” Hinkle said. “For me, I have the second receiver, which is usually a slot. I just have to make sure he’s not running a pass (route). If he blocks down, I have to get outside and force (the running back) back inside to my teammates.”

Elijah Smith returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown for John Hardin. But a penalty negated the play.

The Bluebirds drove into Bulldog territory on their first possession using an empty backfield. But they lost their first of two fumbles.

But Highlands made up for it on the second series. Hoge rolled right and hit Veneman behind two Bulldogs for a 46-yard touchdown and Jared Dougherty hit his first of seven points after a touchdown.

John Hardin came back to tie the game at 7-7 with 2:04 left in the first quarter. Stone ran the ball up the middle for a 17-yard touchdown.

“I thought our kids fought hard in the first half,” Lewis said. “We just have to continue to work and get better. We had more injuries again (Friday). We’re not deep to begin with. It forced more young kids to play. They’re leaning under the fire.”

Urlage gave the Bluebirds ahead for good going around the left side for a 3-yard score as time expired in the first quarter. That started the Highlands run and put the Bluebirds up 14-7 entering the second quarter.

“We just kept doing what we were doing (against the Wing-T),” said Joseph Dressman, Highlands junior linebacker. “We played our base defense. We had to keep reading our keys and fly to the football. We tried to beat them to the spot. If everyone plays it right and doesn’t get up-field, we stop them at the line.”

Highlands put the game away with 21 unanswered points in the second quarter to go up 35-7 at halftime. Urlage ran it in from two yards out. The other two Highlands touchdowns came when Hoge hit Veneman on the right side of the end zone for an 11-yard score and Hoge scored from a yard out.

Hoge threw his final touchdown pass in the third quarter. He hit Chandler New on a fade to the left with 10:03 left.

Junior Austin Hergott took over at quarterback later in the half. Hergott rolled right and hit a diving Eric Miller on the right sideline for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 11:17 to go in the game.

John Hardin had been struggling with turnovers. But the Bulldogs had none in the game.

The Bulldogs did have more penalties. They had seven for 44 yards compared to two for 20 yards for the Bluebirds.

John Hardin continues its tough stretch this Friday at home against Pleasure Ridge Park. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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