Thursday, November 6, 2014

Who are the first-round mismatches against for the Highlands, NC?


Allen Ramsey Photo. Highlands junior running back Nick Kendall (8) breaks free for a long gain in a recent game against Warren Central on Friday. The Bluebirds play host to Boyd County to open the Class 4A playoffs on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

It looks like the typical first-round mismatches for the top-seeded Highlands Bluebirds (8-2) and Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (4-5) football teams.

But like any game, both state powers must prove they are the better team on the field. The Bluebirds welcome the familiar Boyd County Lions (2-8) to Fort Thomas on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. contest while the Thoroughbreds take on the Trimble County Raiders (3-7) at 7 p.m. at Covington Holmes.

Highlands has an overall record of 31-5-1 all-time against District 8-4A opponents. Those five losses have come to Ashland. The Bluebirds have not lost to the Tomcats since 1954. It also helps that the Bluebirds enter the playoffs off their most complete game of the year in a 43-0 win at Warren Central.

Highlands has beaten Boyd County three straight years in Fort Thomas in the first round of the 4A playoffs. The Bluebirds have won the only three meetings in school history by a combined 189-27 for an average margin of victory of 54 points.

This game could have a similar result based on the scoring averages. Highlands has outscored opponents, 404-188 with two shutouts in the past three games. On the other side, Boyd County has been outscored, 313-165. The Bluebirds know they just need to be their dominant selves to win this game.

“We’ve rarely spent much time this season talking about our opponent during the week,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “We really focus on us. We’re constantly trying to refine our skills.”

The Lions made the playoffs via head-to-head tiebreaker. Boyd County tied with Greenup County and Rowan County for third in District 8-4A with 1-3 district records. Greenup County won the third seed with its 4-6 record leaving the Lions and Vikings at 2-8. But Boyd won the fourth seed because of its 25-20 win at Rowan County on Oct. 10.

The Lions have the same head coach for the second consecutive year for the first time since 2011 in John Gilliam. Boyd County has not won a playoff game since 2008 and like last year, has not scored more than 25 points in a game. The Lions have hit that mark three times this year winning on two of those occasions.

Boyd County runs a 4-4 defense geared mostly toward stopping the run in a run-heavy district in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. That benefits the balanced Highlands spread attack led by quarterback Beau Hoge. He’s completed 167-of-260 passes for 2,474 yards, 27 touchdowns and five interceptions.

“We don’t really talk about being balanced,” Weinrich said. “We’re going to take what’s there. Last week, we ran a particular play we hadn’t practiced during the week. It was our go-to play.”

Hoge has also rushed for 406 yards on 59 carries and 16 touchdowns. Senior Griffin Urlage leads the Bluebirds with 523 yards on 92 carries and five touchdowns. Urlage ran over Warren Central junior defensive back Marcus Cornelius on a 19-yard touchdown run on Friday.

“We executed some things last week that we’re excited about,” Weinrich said, “We still have some things we saw on film that we’re emphasizing to get back.”

The Highlands 3-4 defense will again see a Boyd County spread offense led by quarterback Cade Isaacs. The Bluebirds hope to get after the Lions the way they did the Dragons. James Hinkel leads Highlands with two interceptions and linebacker Patrick Schoepf has three fumble recoveries.

“Many of the guys have gone even farther to take ownership of the defense,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Head Coach. “They are more vocal during the game. The senior leadership during the game and in practice is really starting to show. The guys are playing confident and not thinking too much allowing them to play fast.”

In Class 2A, the Thoroughbreds face a team that has not been to the playoffs since 2009. That’s also the last year the Raiders have won three games in a season.

The Thoroughbred spread offense will face primarily a 5-2 Raider defense led by senior defensive end Bo Hawkes and senior defensive back Dusty Wyssbrod. Trimble County runs a wishbone offense that has some option, power off-tackle and sweep plays.

“We hope to get some penetration this week and make them bounce,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “That’s what we want them to do instead of going north and south. That’s what our defense is predicated on.”

The Thoroughbreds hope to handle assignments better than they did in the 30-13 loss to Beechwood. The Tigers burned them with passes in the flats a couple times.

“It’s the same thing in the Beechwood game,” Wagner said. “We gave up a few plays that make those stats skewed a little bit. We’ll make sure they work for it. We had some guys that have that responsibility. They didn’t do it well. That’s what we have to fix.”

NewCath has seen junior running back Jacob Smith take off lately. He has 147 carries for 900 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The Thoroughbreds hope to have more balance with the passing game. Sophomore quarterback Patrick Henschen has completed 76-of-117 passes for 880 yards and six touchdowns. Seniors Nate Enslen and Brandon Gray continue to lead the Thoroughbreds there. Enslen has 18 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns and Gray has 28 catches for 260 yards.

NewCath has found a number of playmakers on defense. Junior cornerback Erik Anderson has four interceptions and Enslen has two. Junior linebacker Kobe Tallon continues to lead the Thoroughbreds with 96 tackles. Gray and Ben Barbara have two fumble recoveries each.

Both teams have players out for the season with anterior cruciated ligament injuries. NewCath sophomore linebacker Spencer Pangallo is one of them.

“It’s difficult to have a tear,” Pangallo said. “It’s major surgery but it’s mostly mental. It will be a while before I come back. There’s always something good to it. We’ll keep working and come back to it.”

NewCath has never faced the Raiders before. The Thoroughbreds have made it to the third round of the playoffs every year since 2000.

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