|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior wide receiver Eric Miller (15) makes a catch in Friday's game at Simon Kenton. Miller has seven catches for 154 yards and a touchdown on the season.|
The players and coaches hope having the bye week in the middle of the season turns out to be a good thing.
Not only do teams use it to recover physically, but also mentally. Highlands finds itself 1-5 for the first time since 1939 but knows it can turn things around and still have a special season.
"Last year, we didn't get a bye and it started to wear on us," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "It helps your forget about the grind of what I have to do, assignments and all that stuff. You get to just come out and get after it like we would in the winter. The focus is just on weights and running. We're not talking football."
The five teams that Highlands has lost to are a combined 24-4. Simon Kenton and Ryle are undefeated at 6-0 and 5-0 respectively. As a result, the Bluebirds are being outscored 38.8-18.7 on average and outgained 417.5-279.7. The Bluebirds have given up 66 first downs and gained 36.
The one win came against winless Campbell County (0-6). The good news is the last four opponents are a combined 5-18 including the three Class 5A, District 5 opponents. The next opponent in Dixie Heights (1-4) beat Boone County, 35-21 for its first win of the year.
"We have not played as well as we need to," Weinrich said. "We still need guys to step up and still need guys to trust what they're doing. But there's still time left to have a great season. That is what we're focused on."
That starts with the seniors. Senior offensive lineman Bo Hebel said the leadership needs to be shown vocally and by example.
"We don't plan on quitting anytime soon," Hebel said. "We're all getting better every day. We all have to crank it up a notch."
Highlands averages 141.2 yards per game running the ball and 138.5 passing the ball. The Bluebirds averaged 200 rushing and 237 passing the ball in their 13-2 Class 4A state championship run last year.
The passing game in particular has struggled with 13 interceptions. Senior quarterback Austin Hergott has completed 67-of-133 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns. But injuries have hurt the Bluebirds there as seniors Chandler New and Mitch Cain did not play against Simon Kenton. Highlands had to move other wide receivers to other positions such as junior Bradley Greene to defensive back.
"Our ability to rotate receivers in and keep them fresh like we've been able to do for years, we've not been able to do for a while," Weinrich said. "That's hindered us quite a bit. Like any aspect of the game, it's about buckling down and getting everyone on the same page and make sure we put them in positions they run routes they're good at and call plays the quarterback is good at."
Senior running back Nick Kendall continues to be the most consistent offensively for the Bluebirds. He leads the team in rushing with 431 yards on 82 attempts and five touchdowns and receiving with 19 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bluebird made some big plays defensively against Simon Kenton. On fourth down in the first quarter, senior linebacker Luke Lindeman sacked Pioneer quarterback Cameron Racke for a loss. But the Simon Kenton offense got rolling after that.
"I think we just need to keep on getting after it in practice," Lindeman said. "When we do make those plays, we need to ride the momentum and hope for more of those plays."
The Bluebirds are minus-11 in the turnover department. Highlands has four fumble recoveries and just one interception by Austin Beal against Campbell County. The Bluebirds have 23 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks on the season. Senior defensive lineman Tyler Robinson has six tackles for a losson the season and three sacks. Senior linebacker Ben Ziegler has a team-high 3.5 sacks.
"I think we're improving," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "We're still making mistakes. But one of the things we're doing is flying around. You can make up for a simple mistake by going really fast. We preach that all the time."
Highlands hopes to hold better on third and fourth down. Opponents have converted 31-of-69 for 45 percent on third down and 10-of-13 for 77 percent on fourth down. Conversely, Highlands has converted 20-of-77 for 26 percent on third down and 13-of-24 for 54 percent on fourth down.
Highlands has won district championships in 18 of the past 19 seasons. The only year since 1995 the Bluebirds did not win one came in 2006.