|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands linebacker Patrick Schoepf (33) goes for a sack in a game in 2014 against Warren Central. Schoepf will be one of 26 seniors to graduate this spring from the latest state championship team.|
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Highlands Bluebirds football team may have a state-record 23 state championships including seven in the last eight years.
But each year has a unique flavor to it. This past year may forever be remembered as Triple 21 Comeback.
The Bluebirds (13-2 overall) fell behind by double digits four times this year in what marked the 100th season of the program. But they overcame the deficits against the two Kentucky teams including the one when it counted the most in the Class 4A championship game.
Highlands fell behind by 21 three times in the first half against Owensboro in the title game. The Red Devils led 42-21 at halftime. But the Bluebirds tightened up on defense and shut out Owensboro, 28-0 in the second half on their way to the 49-42 victory.
Highlands senior quarterback Beau Hoge capped off the remarkable run with the game-winning touchdown with 2:30 left in the game. He ran a sweep left and scored from a yard out.
This past season showed why the Bluebirds have been so consistent throughout the years. Players rise up and come together as a team during a tough offseason workout program. Highlands owns an overall record of 868-229-26 and has not had a losing season since going 4-5-1 in 1955.
The Bluebirds recently honored the players and coaches from this past year, especially the 26 seniors. Head Coach Brian Weinrich even said it was different not seeing them in the weight room for the start of offseason workouts.
“It was the players and the coaching staff,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “It didn’t matter what day of the week it was. They came to work. They knew how to work, enjoy it and enjoy being around each other. It’s a grind playing a sport. They got a lot of joy competing and pushing each other. It’s a tribute to their families and the community. It’s just who we are.”
Hoge completed the season with 3,459 yards passing, 35 touchdowns and just seven interceptions completing 235-of-373 passes. Hoge also rushed for 865 yards on 126 attempts and 26 touchdowns. He will take his talents to Brigham Young University as a quarterback.
The vaunted Highlands offense started up front with a whole new group of guys from last year. Returning offensive lineman Kyler Dalton saw limited action because of injuries. But seniors like Manny Venegas, Matt Gall and Lou Bunning stepped in nicely. Bunning played football for the first time in a couple years.
“You always have to give time for a quarterback,” Venegas said. “When you had a good quarterback like Beau, he made us look good and we made him look good.”
Hoge had plenty of offensive weapons namely wide receiver Alex Veneman and running back Griffin Urlage. Urlage led the team with 984 yards rushing on 153 attempts and eight touchdowns and Veneman had a record-setting year with 95 catches for 1,595 yards and 22 touchdowns. Seniors Josh Watson and James Grau had their moments in the backfield with Cashel Coughlin, Matt Bowman and Justin Weyer making some marks at wide receiver.
Senior tight end Jack Telek went down with an Anterior Cruciated Ligament injury in the Louisville Trinity scrimmage. But he still celebrated joyously with the team after the championship. Weinrich credited the seniors for being good role models to the younger players on and off the field.
Highlands averaged 437.7 yards per game this year and allowed 315.6 defensively. The Bluebirds outscored opponents, 611-312 in total offense.
The Bluebirds recorded 25 quarterback sacks this year for a total of 213 yards lost. Senior linebacker Brady Murray led the way with five with defensive lineman D.J. Mills and Daniel Kremer making four each. Senior defensive lineman Phillip Arce and John Abner had contributions there as well.
“We just stayed focused,” Abner said. “We never gave up. We always tried our hardest to come back to win the game. It was a life-changer.”
The linebackers consistently flew to the ball well. Ben Ellison, Jacob Noe, Rocco Pangallo and Patrick Schoepf made their marks there. Schoepf recovered a team-high three fumbles.
The secondary had its share of injuries this year. But the Bluebirds had three of their 11 interceptions in the second half of the comeback win over Owensboro. James Hinkel made his team-high third late in the game after Grayson Heck deflected a halfback pass. Heck later sealed the deal with another one with less than a minute remaining. Kyle Martin also contributed well back there and Andrew Abner had a solid season until an ACL injury against Cincinnati Elder.
The senior class finished 55-5 with three state championships and a runner-up finish. The Bluebirds finished 8-0 against Covington Catholic during that time.
Wirth resigns from CovCath:
There will be a new face to the Highlands-Covington Catholic rivalry next season. Six-year Head Coach Dave Wirth resigned Tuesday after leading the Colonels to a 49-27 record including an 0-10 mark against Highlands. Highlands has beaten CovCath twice in a season the past four years.
The Bluebirds have won 13 in a row in the series and lead it 47-17 since the teams began playing in 1968. CovCath has not beaten Highlands since 2006.
Wirth took over for current Dixie Heights Head Coach Dave Brossart in 2009. The 1993 Cincinnati Moeller graduate had been the head coach at Hamilton (Ohio) Baden from 2004 to 2008. His overall head coaching record is 76-52.
The Colonels did have some big wins during those years. They ventured down to Paintsville and beat the Johnson Central Golden Eagles the past three years in the second round of the 4A playoffs. Johnson Central entered the game undefeated the past two seasons.
Feggins not retained at Warren Central:
Howard Feggins, the father of former Bluebird wide receiver Jensen Feggins and a former NFL player, was informed he will not return after leading the Warren Central Dragons to a 6-5 mark last year. The five losses came to 4A champion Highlands, 4A runner-up Owensboro, then three-time defending 5A champion Bowling Green, 2A state champion Louisville DeSales.
Warren Central finished second in Class 5A, District 2 earning the right to play host to a first-round playoff game. But Christian County beat the Dragons, 42-35.
Jensen Feggins had a nice season for the Dragons. He had 72 catches for 831 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season. Highlands shut out Warren Central, 43-0 on Oct. 31 in Bowling Green.