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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Who won the showdown between state-ranked Kentucky, Florida opponents?

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands wide receiver Alex Veneman (6) hauls in a touchdown pass in the first quarter against Christopher Columbus cornerback Trajan Bandy (26). Veneman had seven catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns in Highlands' 38-34 loss.

Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

It is not often that the Highlands Bluebirds football team comes out flat.

But one of those rare times came Saturday. Class 4A’s top-ranked Bluebirds found themselves down 28-7 at halftime as a result. They rallied in the second half but fell 38-34 to the eighth-ranked Miami (Fla.) Christopher Columbus Explorers of Florida’s largest Class 8A, District 14. Both teams are 6-1 on the season.

“You have to come out ready to play,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “In the first half, we struggled executing. We knew against these guys coming into the game. There is no margin for error. You can’t miss your assignment and still have a successful play against a team like this. Once we calmed down and started executing, some things happened.”

The Explorers outgained the Bluebirds 465-415 in total offense. Highlands ran 75 plays to 65 for Christopher Columbus. But the Explorers had 23 first downs to 18 for the Bluebirds.

Christopher Columbus used its size advantage along the trenches to build the halftime lead. The Explorers gained 217 yards rushing on 42 carries pounding the ball behind the likes of offensive linemen such as Bryce Handy, Kevin Housholder, Kyle Mann and Danny Fernandez.

Andres Fernandez and Ivan Smith did most of the damage for the Explorers. Andres Fernandez had 119 yards on 17 carries and Smith ran for 61 yards on 13 attempts.

“I’ll be honest with you. From the film we had, we had no idea we had a size advantage until the first quarter,” said Chris Merritt, Christopher Columbus Head Coach. “They were very sound. We picked our spots. We found where we had the mismatch and we tried to attack it. They made their adjustments too. They played different fronts.”

The Bluebirds entered the game averaging 42.7 points per game. They’d scored in the 40s every game except the season-opening 23-16 win at Campbell County.

Highlands quarterback Beau Hoge got banged up in the first half. But he came out in the second half and completed 24-of-38 passes for 330 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

Alex Veneman had another monster game for the Bluebirds. He had seven catches for 133 yards. Nick Kendall followed with six catches for 54 yards and Justin Weyer had five for 73. Teammate Cashel Coughlin grabbed four catches for 34 yards and Chandler New had three for 43 yards.

“In the second half, we executed better,” said Eric Miller, Highlands junior wide receiver. “We have to play more like the second half than the first half and build from there.”

Highlands only rushed for 71 yards on 31 carries. The Bluebirds struggled against the Christopher Columbus 4-3 defense.

The Bluebirds put the clamps down on the Explorers defensively in the second half. They did not allow an offensive touchdown in that half. Bluebird Defensive Coordinator Shelby Jones said the difference was lining up right.

“We had to make some adjustments defensively and scheme-wise to put our better players on the field this week,” Jones said. “The most important thing is we kept fighting and kept playing. Early on, we gave up some stuff but we seemed to be figuring it out as we went along. Sometimes, you bury yourself to far and you can’t get back.”

Like Highlands, Christopher Columbus is a two-platoon team and runs a balanced spread offense. Quarterback Tucker Beirne compleed 17-of-23 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns.

Jerron Rollins led Christopher Columbus with six catches for 65 yards and Austin Maloney had four for 89 yards. Fullback JP Wassman added four catches for 65 yards.

“Their guys were superior athletically to anyone we played. I felt like I was at a college game,” Weinrich said. “It was a great experience for our guys. But we have to win those.”

Penalties allowed Highlands to get back in the game. The Bluebirds scored 27 points in the fourth quarter. The Explorers had 12 for 105 yards and the Bluebirds had just seven for 45 yards.

Christopher Columbus came out running the ball. The Explorers scored just 2:20 into the game. Smith finished off the drive that started at the Highlands 36 after a long Maloney kickoff return with a 1-yard run.

Highlands tied the game later in the quarter. Veneman ran the deep route and Hoge found him for the 47-yard touchdown with 3:31 left in the quarter.

But the Explorers scored 21 unanswered in the second. It started when Beirne found Rollins for a 1-yard strike just four seconds into the quarter. He then found Nick Hernandez for an 11-yard touchdown with 4:14 left in the half.

The Explorers regained the ball with 3:14 left from their 46. That’s when Andres Fernandez ran it in from a yard out.

Christopher Columbus extended the margin to 31-7 with 2:06 left in the third quarter as both offenses struggled. Joseph Toigyesi hit a 23-yard field goal.

“The defense came out and played big in the first half,” Merritt said. “We knew they’re a very potent offense so we knew we had to build the lead. We also knew they were also going to come back. We unfortunately didn’t match up there, but we were lucky to get the win.”

Hoge found the end zone on a sweep right with 11:57 left in the game. But Christopher Columbus responded when Joshua Jobe returned the kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. The Explorers led 38-14 at that point.

But with 10:22, Highlands got that quick score. Hoge found Kendall open in the right flat and he broke a few tackles on his way to a 36-yard score.

The Bluebirds trimmed it to 10 at 38-28 with 6:47 left. Veneman again burned the Explorer defense for a 44-yard touchdown.

After not converting a fourth down following a recovered onside kick, Highlands scored with 18 seconds left. Hoge hit New wide open in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard score. The final score came after the Explorers blocked the extra-point attempt.

Highlands recorded one more turnover as Patrick Schoepf and John Abner recorded fumbles and Rocco Pangallo picked off a Beirne pass. The Bluebirds threw two interceptions.

Highlands will try to wrap up its 18th district championship in 19 years on Friday. The Bluebirds travel to Covington Holmes for a 7 p.m. game.

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