Thursday, November 27, 2014

Highlands squares off in state semifinals with similar opponent

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands senior quarterback Beau Hoge (7) eludes Covington Catholic senior defensive back Sam Kathman (22) in Friday's region title game. The Bluebirds face the Lexington Catholic Knights at 6 p.m. Friday in the Class 4A state semifinals.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

It may be Black Friday, but it’s also been a Blue and White Friday the previous seven years in Fort Thomas.

The Highlands Bluebirds (11-2 overall) have won seven consecutive state semifinal contests and are seeking another against the same opponent they’ve beaten in the last three Class 4A contests in the Lexington Catholic Knights (10-3). Game time is 6 p.m.

Many alums come into town for Thanksgiving weekend and the team is urging everyone to come out and make David Cecil Memorial Stadium the usual tough home field advantage because Highlands knows it is in for a battle. The Knights bring a nine-game winning streak to town while the Bluebirds have won four in a row.

Two versatile, elite quarterbacks will be on hand and the key for the opposing defenses will be containing them. They are Highlands senior Beau Hoge and LexCath senior Reese Ryan.

“It’s two of the top quarterbacks in the state going at it and two really good teams,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “We’re very similar to one another. You could change jerseys and you’d have to really sit back to see who’s who. I think it would be a fun game to see.”

Hoge surpassed the 3,000-yard mark throwing the ball in the 37-34 region final win over Covington Catholic. Hoge has completed 206-of-322 passes for 3,048 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions and rushed for a team-high 654 yards on 90 carries and 20 touchdowns.

Hoge has plenty of weapons around him led by an offensive line in the likes of seniors Matt Gall, Lou Bunning and juniors Carson Haas, Bo Hebel and Evan Richardson. Senior Griffin Urlage has rushed for 641 yards on 111 carries and five touchdowns and junior Nick Kendall has 609 yards on 79 attempts and six touchdowns.

“It all starts with the offensive line,” Urlage said. “They need to have a great game. We need to find the holes and run through them.”

If Lexington Catholic gears up to stop the run, Highlands can hurt teams with its passing game. Senior Alex Veneman continues his record-setting season with 80 catches for 1,448 yards and 21 touchdowns and junior Mitch Cain is second with 25 catches for 400 yards and three scores.

LexCath runs the 3-3-5 defense. The Knights are led by senior linebacker Chase Boling with 108 tackles and five fumble recoveries. Junior defensive back Andy Hickey has a team-high three interceptions. Senior linebacker Braxton Couch and senior defensive back Cody Mitchell add solid support.

The Bluebirds hope to play better defensively after Covington Catholic rallied with two quick scores on long touchdown passes. Highlands does have some young players in the secondary with senior Andrew “The Cowboy” Abner out for the season with a torn Anterior Cruciated Ligament. Senior James Hinkel leads Highlands with two interceptions.

Solid skill players have emerged for the Knights to support Ryan and first-year LexCath Head Coach Mark Perry. Ryan has completed 202-of-288 passes for 2,904 yards, 34 touchowns and seven interceptions. His main targets have been juniors Andy Thompson with 46 catches for 812 yards and five touchdowns and Joseph Ogbogu with 55 catches for 832 yards and 12 scores.

“We just have to go with things and see how they roll out,” said Austin Beal, Highlands junior defensive back. “We just have to stay over top of (Thompson and Ogbogu). We have to protect (the young defensive backs) and make sure they don’t get the ball downfield. We need to make sure they know what they’re doing.”

Ryan also has 66 carries for 321 yards and six touchdowns. But junior Jaylen Jones has emerged at running back. Jones has 250 rushes for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Highlands has made plays defensively at crucial times this season. Senior linebacker Brady Murray leads the Bluebirds with nine tackles for a loss and four sacks. Junior defensive lineman Tyler Robinson also has four sacks and senior linebacker Patrick Schoepf leads Highlands with three fumble recoveries.

“It’s just about going out, playing and doing what we do,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. “They have the ability to make some big plays. But if we go out, cover and do what we’re supposed to do, I feel like we should be a good shape.”

Highlands and LexCath have one common opponent in the Lexington Bryan Station Defenders. Highlands edged Bryan Station, 47-41 on Sept. 5. The Defenders handled the Knights a week later, 49-26.

The Bluebirds are 6-1 all-time against the Knights. The only loss in the series came in 2005 in a 17-0 loss at home in the 3A regional title game. That is the last time Highlands has been shut out and is the last time a team beat Highlands in the playoffs at home.

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