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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Highlands escapes Bryan Station, 47-41

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands senior Josh Waton (right) scores a touchdown in Friday's 47-41 win at Lexington Bryan Station. Offensive linemen Bo Hebel (55) and Evan Richardson (74) paved the way on the score.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

LEXINGTON – A shoot-out was expected and the teams did not disappoint.

But the Highlands Bluebirds (2-0) made a few more plays in the end to escape with a 47-41 victory over the host Lexington Bryan Station Defenders (1-2) on Friday. They play three straight at David Cecil Memorial Stadium after opening with two on the road.

“We talked all week about last week,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “It was an ugly win, but we pulled it out. It was a great week of practice. It poured down rain on us and it was hot (88 degrees at game time). We just kept coming back and did what we had to do.”

Bryan Station struggled against the run in its 3-4 defense against Harlan County and Louisville St. Xavier. Highlands keyed on that and ran for 352 yards on 63 carries for an average of just less than 5.8 a touch.

The Bluebirds had success all night running many different directions behind their offensive line. Highlands saw four different backs rush for at least 50 yards. Quarterback Beau Hoge and senior running back Griffin Urlage rushed for more than 100 each. Urlage had 23 carries for 111 yards and Hoge rushed for 105 on 10 carries and three touchdown.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” Weinrich said. “We had to adjust some. They got out in front of us. We were trying to do some things and got off the field quickly. We had to give our defense some breaks. The offensive linemen stepped up and the receivers blocked well. It was a great team effort to have 300 yards rushing.”

Senior Josh Watson followed with 86 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown and junior Nick Kendall had eight carries for 50 yards. Watson returned this year after missing his junior year with a torn anterior cruciated ligament.

“It is a trio dominating (in the backfield),” Watson said. “We have so many weapons in the backfield. Teams can’t stop us. We have to keep our feet running and never stop.”

The Highlands offensive line broke in many new faces after graduating 12 from last year’s team. The only offensive lineman that had any experience was senior Kyler Dalton. Dalton has been out with a foot injury, but he’s expected to return in a few weeks.

“In the beginning, we weren’t in sync,” said Manny Venegas, Highlands senior offensive lineman. “We had a lot of false starts and holds. But (Friday), we had two penalties. We’re just getting better as the season goes.”

The Bluebirds mixed in numerous passes in their 88 total plays on offense and 26 first downs. They displayed the balanced attack that fans have come to know in previous seasons. Hoge completed 13-of-25 for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Alex Veneman recorded four catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns with Mitch Cain hauling in four catches for 66 yards. Watson added two catches for 41 yards.

The Defenders put up 495 yards in total offense. Junior quarterback Andre Davis completed 25-of-47 passes for 325 yards. Bryan Station burned Highlands deep a couple times and converted some 3rd-and-longs. But the Bluebirds also held on some key fourth downs as well.

“Not many teams are as athletic as them,” said Kyle Martin, Highlands senior defensive back. “Blown coverages got us a few times. We were trying to do too much. It was fun playing a passing team like that.”

Highlands used discipline in its 3-4 rush, especially without senior defensive lineman D.J. Mills. The Bluebirds did not want Davis to escape for long runs. Davis finished with 73 yards rushing on six carries and a touchdown. D’Andre Mack had 13 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns for the Defenders. Bryan Station ran 79 plays and garnered 19 first downs.

“We really focused on making them play more plays and then we’re going to get a stop,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. “We knew they were going to get a lot of first downs. They have a lot of athletic guys. (Davis) is really hard to get a hold on.”

Bryan Station used four athletic wide receivers and made Highlands defend the entire field with its speed. Tequan Claitt led the Defenders with five receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown with Carl Walker going for 24 yards on five catches and a touchdown.

“We worked as a team and made sure (Davis) didn’t get outside of us,” said Trent Webster, Highlands sophomore defensive lineman. “We don’t just use our linemen. We use our linebackers and we make sure they’re all coordinated together so (Davis) didn’t get a big game. Our defensive backs worked to make sure the receivers didn’t get open.”

The Bluebirds scored first with 7:42 left in the first quarter. Hoge rolled to his left and found no open receivers. But he did find a hole in the Defender defense rushing right for a 19-yard touchdown. Highlands failed on the two-point conversion run leaving it 6-0.

Bryan Station took the lead with 3:39 left in the quarter. Davis found Mack in the left flat. Mack broke a few tackles for the 25-yard score. Anthony Lopez’ extra-point kick put the Defenders up 7-6.

But Highlands marched down the field with its running attack. Watson scored from a yard out with 1:10 left in the quarter to go up 13-7 after Jared Daugherty’s extra-point attempt.

The Defenders took advantage of some Highlands miscues and built a 28-13 lead in the second quarter. Walker scored on a short comeback route on the left side with 11:26 left in the second quarter to put Bryan Station up 14-13.

“On the times we did what we were supposed to do, we were in good shape,” Jones said. “Every once in a while, an end would get nosy and he would get outside. We knew that’s the way they could make plays watching them on film. The (offensive) tackles were inviting ends upfield and creating lanes for (Davis) to go. We were covering so well. But he was obviously going to have time back there.”

Highlands lost a fumble at its own 32, but the defense held Bryan Station. But Mack scored from a yard out with 6:32 remaining and Davis scored from two out with 4:47 left. One score came after Bryan Station blocked a Highlands punt.

But the Bluebirds responded with 2:55 left. Kendall scored from four yards out with 2:55 left.

Highlands received the ball back just 50 seconds later. Hoge drove the Bluebirds down the field and scored when Hoge ran a quarterback sweep right and found the end zone for the 7-yard score with 25.7 seconds left. The Bluebirds did not convert the run and trailed 28-26 at halftime.

Bryan Station converted a 3rd-and-35 with 10:36 left following a Luke Lindeman sack. Claitt ran a hard route from right to left, found an opening in the Highlands defense and scored on a 72-yard play to put the Defenders up 35-26.

But the Bluebirds came back and scored with 8:38 left. Veneman had one-on-one coverage on the left side of the end zone. He outmuscled his defender for a 20-yard score to cut the lead to 35-33.

The Bluebirds recorded a key stop on defense then took the lead with four minutes left in the third. Hoge ran left and scored on a pretty 60-yard run. That put Highlands up 40-35.

After both defenses came through on fourth down, Bryan Station took its final lead. The Defenders faked the bubble screen right then Davis found Devin Key down the right side for a 45-yard score. The two-point conversion pass failed and Bryan Station led 41-40.

Highlands received the ball back with 5:28 following a Bryan Station missed field goal. The Bluebird offense marched down the field with the help of a 15-yard facemask penalty on the Defenders.

Hoge rolled to his right with 1:45 remaining and found Veneman on the right side. He escaped his defender for a 45-yard score to give the Bluebirds the lead for good.

The Defenders did convert another 3rd-and-30 with 31 seconds left. But Davis tried to throw a home run pass in the waning seconds. Highlands senior defensive back Andrew Abner played it perfectly for the game-clinching interception at the Bluebird 7. He ran it back to the 11 with 11.9 seconds remaning.

Highlands takes on 0-3 John Hardin on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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