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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Highlands escapes CovCath again

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands junior wide receiver Mitch Cain (16) makes a catch and holds on while CovCath's Sam Kathman (22) tackles him and Ben Zumdick (6) coverges. Highlands won 37-34 to advance to its eighth straight semifinal game.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

Some fans may have thought it would not be a good game.

Thus, they did not brave the 28-degree weather to see another Class 4A, Region 4 championship game between the Highlands Bluebirds and Covington Catholic Colonels on Friday at Cecil Memorial Stadium. But the ones that did saw the Bluebirds survive a 37-34 scare.

The difference between Friday and Sept. 26 is the Colonels did not give up despite trailing at halftime. CovCath fell behind just 14-0 during the regular season and the Bluebirds pulled away for a 42-7 win.

But on Friday, the Colonels fell behind 27-13 at halftime and did not crumble. It took Highland running off the final 4:57 of the game to escape with its 13th straight win in the series and eighth consecutive region title.

“I think they have a lot of athletes. They never slowed down. They never flinched, and we knew they wouldn’t,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “We figured 20 points wouldn’t be enough, and if it was, great. I thought our guys played hard and I thought their guys played hard. It was another Highlands-CovCath classic. We’re both going to watch film and see our mistakes. We’re going to see ours and feel fortunate and we could have won by more. They’re going to see their mistakes and see it should have gone the other way. We’re really happy to be in the left column as the coaches were saying.”

The Bluebirds tried to put away the Colonels in the second half. But CovCath clawed its way back into the game with two turnovers to none for Highlands. Those two turnovers gave CovCath short field position.

The Bluebird turnovers came with one lost fumble and an interception. Sam Kathman intercepted a Hoge pass and Nate Bailey picked up a Hoge fumble and returned it 16 yards before Highlands wide receiver Mitch Cain saved a touchdown by tackling him from behind.

Highlands still put up impressive offensive numbers. The Bluebirds gained 534 yards on 63 plays to 350 yards on 55 plays for the Colonels. That included 357-116 on the ground.

Highlands senior quarterback Beau Hoge committed to Brigham Young University over the weekend and put up another impressive game behind another great game from the offensive line. Hoge rushed for 191 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns and threw for 177 more. Hoge completed 13-of-21 passes and two touchdowns to go with one interception.

“You have to take what you get,” Weinrich said. “Sometimes a guy is going to be such a dynamic playmaker. There are going to be some things that happen. You can’t make plays unless you take some chances. We didn’t want to do some things until we had to. But we let (Hoge) loose.”

The Bluebirds displayed their usual balance as the offensive line allowed just two quarterback sacks. Junior Nick Kendall rushed for 97 yards on 15 carries and Griffin Urlage ran for 52 on 10 carries.

Kendall also led Highlands with five catches for 36 yards. Junior Eric Miller recorded four receptions for 64 yards as CovCath again focused on senior Alex Veneman. The record-setting Veneman had just one catch for 30 yards.

“We’re always prepared for CovCath so that really helped,” said Evan Richardson, Highlands junior center. “From a mental perspective, we watched a lot of film just really drilling in our plays making sure we got our steps right. We expected the pass to be more in our game. But it wound up being more of a running game. When teams shift to defend the pass, we have to be able to revert back to the running game.”

The Bluebirds had 22 first downs to 14 for the Colonels. But Adam Wagner gave a valiant effort for CovCath. The senior quarterback completed 14-of-21 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 49 yards on 20 carries. Logan McDowell led CovCath with four catches for 108 yards and Lee McClure had four for 55 yards.

“Beating CovCath is always awesome,” said Patrick Schoepf, Highlands senior linebacker. “Whatever the score is, we still beat them. We’re moving on. That’s all that matters. We’ll be ready for (Lexington Catholic). We have a whole week of practice to get ready for them. We’ll be ready to go.”

The Bluebirds came out strong moving the ball at will. Hoge had 13 and 3-yard touchdown runs to give Highlands a 13-0 lead. He then completed a sideline pass to Veneman. Veneman made a few moves and scored his 21st receiving touchdown of the season with 2:55 left in the first to put the Bluebirds up 20-0.

CovCath hit the scoreboard with two touchdown in the final five minutes of the second quarter. Wagner scored from six and a yard out to trim the margin to 20-13.

But the Bluebirds took back the momentum before halftime. Miller took a pass on the right side and scored from 20 yards out with 34 seconds left to put Highlands up 27-13 at halftime.

Highlands went on a nice drive to open the second half. Jared Dougherty hit a 28-yard field goal with 9:18 left in the third to put Highlands up 30-13.

Just a few minutes later, Hoge had an amazing run for all-time with 4:26 left. He took a read-option right, ducked and dodged eight CovCath defenders on his way to an 81-yard touchdown run that made the ESPN Top Plays. That gave Highlands a 37-13 lead.

But CovCath scored 21 straight to make things interesting. It started when Wagner ran it in from three yards out with 1:23 left in the third quarter.

With 8:48 left in the game, McDowell got behind the Highlands secondary for an 81-yard score to cut the margin to 37-27.

Then following a lost Highlands fumble, the Colonels struck quick again. Wagner found McClure for a 34-yard score with 4:57 remaining.

“They found some matchups they liked,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. “Whenever you throw the ball up, it’s 50-50.”

Highlands takes on Lexington Catholic in the state semifinals for the fourth straight year Friday in Fort Thomas. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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