Thursday, November 20, 2014

What does Highlands need to do to win another region crown against CovCath?

Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands senior linebacker Patrick Schoepf (33) takes down an Ashland ball carrier in the second round of the playoffs on Friday. Highlands faces Covington Catholic for the fourth straight year in the region finals at 7:30 p.m.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

The teams own a combined 28 state championships.

But while the Covington Catholic Colonels remain the biggest threat to their Kentucky football dominance, many argue it has not been a rivalry lately. That’s because the Highlands Bluebirds find themselves on the positive side of the longest winning streak in series history.

The Bluebirds (10-2 overall) have beaten the Colonels in 12 consecutive meetings dating back to 2006. Highlands has beaten CovCath (8-4) twice the past three seasons and leads the all-time series, 46-17. The Bluebirds pulled away from the Colonels for a 42-7 victory in Fort Thomas on Sept. 26.

Highlands has played in seven straight state championships. The Bluebirds won a state-record six straight titles before losing to Collins in the 4A title game last year.

But all the Bluebirds are concerned about is avoiding the same fate of the 1997 and 2001 teams this week. Those teams beat the Colonels during the regular season only to lose the playoff meeting. CovCath ended up winning the 3A state title in 1997 after the “Mud Bowl” game.

“These guys are real mature,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “They handle it well. We just go out and take care of our job. They’ll be ready to go. In the playoffs, if you win by one or win by 100, you get to play the next week.”

The Bluebirds have won three in a row entering the game and the Colonels have won five in a row. CovCath lost to Beechwood and Ryle following the loss to Highlands. But the Colonels bounced back and knocked off previously undefeated Johnson Central, 19-7 in Paintsville last week. CovCath Head Coach Dave Wirth said this senior class is just the second class in school history to play in four straight region championship games.

“I am very proud of our team,” Wirth said. “They’ve fought through a lot of adversity. Most good programs don’t play three-fourths of their games over a two-year span without their starting quarterback. For comparison, imagine this Highlands team without (quarterback Beau) Hoge for one-half a season. That will give you an idea of what this team has faced.”

Wirth referred mostly to senior quarterback Adam Wagner. He’s played in 10 games this year directing the CovCath Spread offense. Wagner has completed 112-of-179 passes for 1,440 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The Colonels have also played junior Ben Dressman and junior Ryan McGinness back there. McGinness is generally a wide receiver who had 12 catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns.

“Each brings something a little different to the game,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. “You have to be prepared for all three.”

Seniors Lee McClure and Logan McDowell have been their primary targets. McClure has 29 catches for 577 yards and McDowell has 35 for 519 yards.

The Colonels have outscored opponents, 343-193 on the season. They’ve rushed for 2,060 yards led by Wagner’s 587 yards on 87 carries and five touchdowns and have passed for 2,151. They’ve allowed 1,730 yards rushing and 1,503 passing.

The Bluebird defense is allowing 17.5 points and 305.9 yards per game. Senior linebacker Brady Murray leads Highlands with 8.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Junior defensive lineman Tyler Robinson has six tackles for a loss and four sacks. Senior defensive back James Hinkel has two interceptions and senior linebacker Patrick Schoepf has three fumble recoveries to lead the Bluebirds.

“We’ve been watching a lot of film,” Murray said. “We come out to practice every day with a lot of intensity and stay focused. It’s about coming out coming out with a lot of fire.”

The Highlands defense has held up strong for the most part despite losing senior defensive back Andrew “The Cowboy” Abner for the season with an anterior cruciated ligament injury. The Colonels like to run the read-option and the Bluebirds held that in check in the regular season with an aggressive defense.

“That’s what we teach every day,” Jones said. “It’s all about getting to the ball fast and making plays. Most importantly, it’s about getting off blocks. It’s a matter of using your hands and fighting through it. You have to be more physical than the other team. That’s exactly what we try to do.”

The Bluebirds hope to continue to show that same diversity on offense they have all season. They’ve scored 478 points this year and average 415.7 yards per game.

Hoge continues to lead the Bluebirds. The recent Brigham Young University commit has completed 193-of-301 passes for 2,871 yards and 30 touchdowns in the win. He has also rushed for 463 yards on 74 carries and 17 touchdowns.

Senior wide receiver Alex Veneman continues to have a record-setting season. He has 79 catches for 1,418 yards and 20 touchdowns. Junior Mitch Cain follows with 24 receptions for 383 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bluebirds outgained the Colonels, 540-362 in total offense in the regular season game. The offensive line dominated that contest. In the second-round win over Ashland, junior Nick Kendall rushed for 156 yards on 17 carries and four touchdowns in the win.

Highlands hopes to finish drives better this game. The Bluebirds fumbled the ball away twice inside the Ashland 5 and had a drive inside the 20 stopped as time expired in the first half.

“Last week, we had a couple of emotional issues with a couple of linemen,” said Lou Bunning, Highlands senior offensive lineman. “The seniors have to step it up and keep them focused lately. We have to keep doing our jobs, specifically snaps. We should be fine this week.”

CovCath plays a 3-3-5 stack defense. Junior linebacker Cam Pitzer leads the Colonels with 89 tackles. Senior defensive back Samuel Kathman leads CovCath with two fumble recoveries and senior defensive back Caleb Summe has a team-high three interceptions.

Temperatures are forecast to be between 16 and 34 degrees on Friday. Weinrich said volunteers have come out to help clear off the field following snowfall Monday.

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