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Saturday, November 15, 2014

How did Highlands hold off the hungry visitors Friday?

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands senior wide receiver Cashel Coughlin (89) looks for room after a catch in Friday's game against Ashland. The Bluebirds won 30-15 to advance to the region finals.
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

Many received their wish.

The Highlands Bluebirds football team (10-2 overall) will have another home playoff game Friday when the District 7-4A rival Covington Catholic Colonels (8-4) come to town for the fourth straight year for the Region 4 championship. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

But both teams had to survive tough battles against the top teams from District 8-4A to set up the match-up. The Bluebirds held off the determined Ashland Blazer Tomcats (6-5), 30-15 and the Colonels ventured to Johnson Central (11-1) and won 19-7.

“I feel we played a great game,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “That’s a great team. We beat the number two team over there (in District 8-4A) that has a great running back. They have some great players and they’re all juniors. I’m glad we’re not going to face them in 4A next year.”

The Colonels have beaten the Golden Eagles three straight seasons in the second round in Paintsville. Johnson Central came into the game undefeated the past two years.

Highlands moved the ball well, but could not finish drives in the win. The Bluebirds outgained the Tomcats, 442-297 in total offense including 205-51 through the air. Game time temperature was 28 degrees.

The Bluebirds found a lot of space up the middle with junior running back Nick Kendall. He finished with 17 carries for 156 yards and four touchdowns.

“It felt great. Our (offensive) line did a heck of a job,” Kendall said. “They’re doing great this season. Our line was pushing them back and it created huge holes every time. I made something out of it.”

Ashland focused on taking away the Highlands passing game and did not let the Bluebirds receive a lot going outside. Bluebird quarterback Beau Hoge completed 16-of-25 passes for 205 yards and wide receiver Alex Veneman had six catches for 107 yards.

“They were doing a good job mixing things up,” Weinrich said. “We had to keep the ball moving, get some first downs and have some success. The line came through and Nick came through. It worked out.”

The Bluebirds did give up two long plays to Ashland standout running back Quinton Baker, but not much to anyone else. Baker, a University of Kentucky commit, finished with 236 yards rushing on 27 carries. But the Bluebirds held Jake Long to 10 carries for six yards.

“They’re just two great players,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Head Coach. “(Baker) is just lightning whenever he gets a chance to get some space. We were able to corral him most of the game. We gave up that one early because we didn’t squeeze like we were supposed to. He got a little bit and was able to take off. On the next one, our guy lost his feet. He’s fast and athletic.”

The Tomcats did not throw the ball much out of their spread offense. Quarterback Hunter Prince completed 5-of-15 passes for 51 yards and an interception to Grayson Heck in the second half.

Highlands drove to the Ashland 1 on its first possession and tried to score out of the I-formation look with offensive lineman Bo Hebel lined up behind Hoge blocking for Griffin Urlage. But the Bluebirds lost the ball on fourth down.

That’s when Baker broke loose for his first touchdown. He bounced left, cut back through the middle and bounced outside for a 96-yard touchdown run to put the Tomcats up 7-0.

“We just tried our best to stop Quinton Baker,” said John Abner, Highlands senior defensive lineman. “I think we were just better than their offensive line. We were able to shut him out at the line of scrimmage sometimes. We wanted to take away the cutback and running up the middle.”

But the Bluebirds came back and marched right down the field. Kendall scored on a counter left to tie the game at 7-7 with 3:55 left.

The Bluebirds took a 14-7 lead with seven seconds left in the quarter. Kendall ran right and up the middle for an 8-yard run.

“It was cold,” Kendall said. “We knew coming into this game we might have to run the ball a little more that we would in a different season. We responded. We struggled coming out at halftime. They made some adjustments. We came out and got after them.”

The only score of the second quarter came with 11:50 remaining. Highlands junior defensive back Austin Beal tackled Long in the end zone for a safety to put the Bluebirds up 16-7.

Highlands had two more drives into the red zone, but could not score. The Bluebirds lost a fumble on the Tomcat 4 with 9:05 left in the half.

Highlands did not score again until the fourth quarter. Kendall took a draw up the middle and scored from 57 yards out with 11:18 left in the game.

Baker responded with a 68-yard touchdown run exactly two minutes later. That left Highlands up 23-15.

The Bluebirds put the game away with 3:40 remaining. Kendall scored from 13 yards out.

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