|Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands senior linebacker Brady Murray (18) holds onto Covington Catholic quarterback Adam Wagner (19) in Friday's region title game. The Bluebirds advanced to the state semifinals for the eighth straight year.|
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Highlands Bluebirds football team feels fortunate because it held off the pesky Covington Catholic Colonels, 37-34 on Friday.
The Bluebirds (11-2 overall) have come out on the positive side many times against their arch-rivals. But even though they accomplished the tough feat a fourth straight year, it has not always turned out that way. Even recently retired Highlands Head Coach Dale Mueller came into the locker room after the game and said it’s never easy facing the Colonels (8-5) in the playoffs. The Bluebirds had a stellar 250-36 record during Mueller’s 20-year tenure as head coach with an unmatched 11 state championships.
Many in Fort Thomas have not forgotten what happened to the 1997 and 2001 teams. In 1997, the Bluebirds edged the Colonels, 24-22 during the regular season. But CovCath came back to beat Highlands, 41-35 in double overtime in the region championship game on its way to the AAA state championship that year.
Highlands responded with three consecutive state championships the following three years. But in 2001, the Bluebirds crushed the Colonels, 52-22 during the regular season only to lose 18-15 in the second round of the playoffs. CovCath later lost 17-14 to eventual state runner-up Rockcastle County in the state semifinals that season.
The Colonels trimmed the lead to the final score with 4:57. But the CovCath offense did not touch the ball again.
“They have dynamic players. Their quarterback (Adam Wagner) is a playmaker,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “They have speed on the outside. We knew we didn’t want to give them the ball back. They had the momentum. We had to get the first first down, then we had to get the second first down. We had to keep the ball moving and keep it out of their hands. We ran the clock out and were fortunate to win that game.”
The Bluebirds avoided any Kurt Bovard-type situations as a result. Bovard hauled in the game-winning pass on Oct. 27, 2006 during the regular season for a 29-27 Colonel win. The Colonels then beat the Bluebirds, 25-15 on Nov. 11 that same year for the last win in the series.
The Bluebirds ran behind their offensive line with quarterback Beau Hoge and running backs Nick Kendall and Griffin Urlage to run out the clock. They moved to 47-17 against the Colonels all-time and extended the longest winning streak in the series to 13 games.
“We had some success running the ball (in September),” Weinrich said. “We came out firing the ball. We said it is time to win the game. We’ll get behind you guys and lets go. If they can’t stop us, we’re going to keep going. We got just enough each time. We really took control at the end of the game. That’s what you do all year long. It comes down to that last drive. No one was tired. No one was panicking. We were ready to go.”
In terms of the playoffs, this Bluebird team will be lumped in with the ones of the previous three years in addition to the 2007, 2004, 2000, 1998, 1995, 1989 and 1982 teams. Those teams beat the Colonels in both the regular season and playoff games. The 2012, 2011, 2007, 2004, 2000, 1998, 1989 and 1982 teams went on to win state championships as a result before last year’s team and the 1995 squad finished state runner-up.
Highlands plays host to Lexington Catholic (10-3) on Friday in the state semifinals. Game time is 7:30 p.m.