|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior defensive back Austin Beal (right) intercepted a pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown in the scrimmage at Cincinnati St. Xavier last year.|
The Blue and White do not mind facing powerful opponents in scrimmages to find out what things they need to work on.
That powerful opponent happens to be the Cincinnati St. Xavier Bombers of the brutal Greater Catholic League for the second straight year. The two meet Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m.
"I don't think it does you any good to have a scrimmage and come away feeling you have nothing work on," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "(The Bombers) are really going to exploit what your weaknesses are. Whether it's a guy, a technique or even a play. It'makes things exciting because they know they're going against a very, very good team. In the end, we're hoping it makes us better."
The Bombers won the scrimmage last year, 30-15. But the Bluebird varsity outscored St. Xavier, 15-10 playing for 2.5 quarters. St. Xavier finished 10-3 last year losing 21-0 to GCL rival Cincinnati Moeller in the regional title game. Highlands finished 13-2 last year winning its 23rd state championship in school history, 49-42 over Owensboro in December at Bowling Green.
Highlands scrimmaged St. Xavier and Louisville Trinity last year because the regular season did not start until week one. But the Bluebirds scheduled just one scrimmage since they open the season in week zero.
The Highlands 3-4 defense will face a loaded Bomber offense led by junior quarterback Sean Clifford. Clifford passed for 832 yards and nine touchdowns and ran for 314 yards and two scores in nine games despite the injuries.
Clifford has a number of weapons. That includes 6-foot-6-inch wide receiver Andrew Homer. The Miami (Ohio) commit had 15 catches for 131 yards last year and had a sack at outside linebacker. The Bombers also like to throw the ball to tight ends Noah Davis and Alexander Deters.
"They do a great job on offense trying to get more guys than you have in spots. Having a quarterback get the ball out to guys when they need to is helpful," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "They like to get the ball to their tight ends. They'll run two tight end formations. It seems like they have lot of the skill guys back. They'll probably have several guys step in and be really good players. It'll be fun to finally get out and face someone else."
Junior tackle Matt Bockhorst anchors the Bomber offensive line. But big offensive linemen usually don't bother Highlands. Junior Drew Brevard and senior Tyler Robinson anchor the Bluebird defensive line.
"I think overall we'll be pretty strong this year. That's vital, especially on the defensive line," said Nathan Davis, Highlands sophomore defensive lineman. "We've always been smaller than other team, but we're so quick. It lets us get around (offensive linemen)."
Highlands will be breaking in many new faces in the secondary. Senior Austin Beal returns with the most experience there. He returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in the scrimmage last year.
"If offenses find somewhere to take advantage, they're going to do that," Jones said. "We just want to go out, play our game and improve each week. Really everything is about getting ready for district and the playoff run. There may be some weaknesses we haven't noticed. You also find guys you didn't know could play quite yet. Those guys show up in a scrimmage. That's how we'll approach it."
Offensively, Highlands will be breaking in new senior starting quarterback Austin Hergott. Highlands returns experience on the offensive line to protect him led by seniors Evan Richardson, Carson Haas, Nathan Raleigh and junior Kyle Finfrock. The Bluebirds return experience at wide receiver led by Mitch Cain, Eric Miller and Chandler New. The returning rusher from last year is senior Nick Kendall.
Highlands has been balanced for many years and could be the same again this year in its spread attack. The Bluebirds averaged 200 yards rushing and almost 237 passing last year.
"That was completely by accident being that balanced," Weinrich said. "It worked out really well. We were trying to do what worked for us and what we thought was there at the time. As far as preparing, it's common sense. If a team can throw and a team can run, it's a whole lot more difficult to defend as opposed to a team that's going to be one or other."
The wide receivers are working to get on the same page route-wise with Hergott. Hergott verbally committed to Central Michigan University of the NCAA Division I Mid-American Conference a few weeks ago.
"We're getting better timing now that it's coming down to game time," said Braden Posey, Highlands sophomore wide receiver. "Most of the receivers have gotten to know how far (Austin) Hergott can throw it. St. X is probably going to play a lot of bump-and-run. It's about using your hands and trying to beat them off the ball."
The regular season starts Aug. 21 for Highlands. The Bluebirds travel to Union to face the Cooper Jaguars at 7 p.m.