|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands wide receiver Eric Miller (15) makes a 45-yard catch late in the second quarter of Friday's game at Cooper. The Bluebirds lost 37-13.|
The vaunted Highlands Bluebirds football team had lost just twice to Kentucky teams during its impressive run of 113-7 with seven state championships in eight seasons. The big reason is the Bluebirds come out swinging hard, make big plays and wear out opponents with their depth.
But on Friday, the host Cooper Jaguars did better in the trenches and made more big plays to win the season opener for both teams 37-13 in the Skyline Crosstown Showdown. Highlands had not lost a season-opener since Lexington Henry Clay came to Fort Thomas won 18-13 on Aug. 23, 2002 in the Bluebirds' first game the turf field at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
"We got to move on," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We knew they'd play hard. They played hard and executed better than we did."
This also marked the lowest point total for the Bluebird spread offense in the last 85 games. The last time Highlands scored fewer points came Sept. 25, 2009 when the Bluebirds beat Cincinnati St. Xavier, 12-7. The Bluebirds have not been shut out in 133 games. The last time that happened came Nov. 18, 2005 when Lexington Catholic beat Highlands, 17-0 in the regional finals of the Class AAA playoffs that year.
This marked the first time Highlands and Cooper ever played each other. Cooper opened in 2008. But the Jaguars lost in the 2012 Class 5A state championship game to Bowling Green and drove to the state semifinals last year before losing 33-7 to eventual state champion Pulaski County.
"All, all we kept hearing is our kids can't compete with these guys," said Randy Borcher, Cooper Head Coach. "We used that as motivation. At the end of the day, I told the guys not to listen to any of that. All that matters is what the 63 guys and the 12 coaches in the locker room believe. We had a great week of practice and believed we could beat them and they did it."
Cooper out gained Highlands 426-270 in total offense including 242-101 on the ground. Jaguar senior running back Torey Cordell-Armstrong did most of the damage running the ball 27 times for 178 yards and three touchdowns. Despite that, Highlands had 16 first downs to 15 for Cooper.
Highlands quarterback Austin Hergott made some nice throws down the field. He completed 11-of-28 passes for 169 yards and four interceptions. One went to Bradley Greene for 60 yards and another to Eric Miller for 45. Chandler New also had three receptions for 20 yards.
"We were able to play field position in the second half, which really helped us," Borchers said. "We were able to force them to put long drives together. Our defensive line did a great job. Two of the guys that started there were going both ways. They were playing almost ever down offensively so we tried to get them some spells. It was a team effort. They played well overall."
Jaguar senior quarterback Nathan Brown completed 7-of-18 passes for 184 yards. Two went to Dante Hendrix for 86 yards.
Cooper scored on its first possession of the game and never looked back. Brown completed an 82-yard touchdown pass to Dante Hendrix. He caught the ball in the middle of the field and raced to the left for the score just 81 seconds into the game. Mitchell Hollifield added the extra point to give the Jaguars a 7-0 advantage.
Cooper added another touchdown with 2:37 left in the first quarter. Cordell-Armstrong took a sweep around the right side and scored on a 68-yard run to put Cooper up 14-0.
The Jaguars looked to put up more distance in the second quarter. Tyson Jackson got behind the Highlands defense and hauled in a 31-yard score to make it 20-0 after Austin Beal blocked Hollifield's extra-point kick.
Beal then gave Highlands momentum with a 45-yard punt return. Jared Dougherty's extra-point kick cut the margin to 20-7.
The Bluebirds had a chance to come closer as Hergott connected with Miller for a 45-yard pass to the Cooper 6 with 11 seconds left in the half. But Highlands could not complete either pass into the end zone before the half came to an end.
The Blubirds held on defense then took the ball at the Cooper 39 with 11:05 left in the third. But on 4th-and-1, the Jaguars stopped Highlands short of the first down. Cooper then drove to the Highlands 2 but only managed a 32-yard Hollifield field goal to increase the lead to 23-7.
But Highlands scored with 1:31 left in the third to trim the margin to 23-13. Hergott completed a 60-yard strike to Greene to the Cooper 20. Highlands senior running back Nick Kendall ultimately scored from a yard out, but the conversion run failed.
The Jaguars did not score their last two touchdowns until the final 2:36. Armstrong scored from a yard and five yards out. The second score came with 1:34 left in the game following a Chad Michels interception. That marked the fifth one of the day for the Jaguars.
"I give our kids a lot of credit in the second half," Borchers said. "We were gassed coming in at halftime. They had some momentum coming in the second half. Stopping them right before halftime was huge. We didn't play great. Our kids kept battling."
The Bluebirds play host to Campbell County (0-1) on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.