Thursday, October 29, 2015

Highlands-Boone County Preview

Highlands seeks to carry momentum into season finale

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Mitch Cain (16) tries to get away from Grant County's Joseph Knipp (12) in the Bluebird win Friday. Highlands concludes the regular season at Boone County on Friday at 7 p.m.
They've rediscovered the magic since the bye week.

But now that Highlands Bluebirds football team (4-5 overall) has wrapped up its 31st consecutive district win and its 19th district championship in the last 20 years, the next goal is carrying that momentum into Friday then into the Class 5A playoffs. The Bluebirds have won three straight since the bye week.

Highlands put together its best offensive output of the season in a 56-22 domination of the visiting Grant County Braves on Friday. The Bluebirds scored on 5-of-6 possessions in the first half before the reserves took over in the second half.

That point total eclipsed the highest point total of last year's 13-2 Class 4A state championship team. Last year, the Bluebirds scored a season-high 49 points three times including the come-from-behind 49-42 win over the Owensboro Red Devils in the state championship game.

Highlands concludes the regular season on the road against a winless Boone County Rebels squad (0-9) looking for just its third win since winning a Class 6A, Region 3 championship in 2011. Boone County came a few plays from playing for the state championship losing 16-14 to Scott County in the semifinals that year. Game time is 7 p.m.

The Rebels come into the game on an 18-game losing streak. The last time they tasted victory came on Aug. 29, 2014 in a 49-26 home win over the Conner Cougars.

Former assistant coach Marty Steele took over as head coach after last year when Jeff Griffith took the head coaching job at Barren County. Steele is the third head coach of the Rebels in four seasons. Steele said the Rebels are tackling in practice unlike the last two years.

The Bluebirds have had a lot of success not tackling in practice but focusing on technique. It has paid off in recent weeks.

"It's hard to simulate tackling," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "You end up going to the ground more and you end up with more injuries and more pounding on the bodies. Being fresh at the end of the year helps."

Boone County has been outscored 394-109 on the season for an average of about 44-12. The closest the Rebels have come to victory are 35-21 defeats to Dixie Heights on Sept. 25 and last week at Campbell County.

"The kids are slowly getting back to the tough style of Boone County football," Steele said. "Last week, we were playing for a home playoff game. It didn't pan out. Most of our starters are juniors. We hope they are learning lessons that will benefit them in their senior year."

The Rebels play a 4-3 base defense. Among the leaders on the Boone County defense have been junior defensive lineman JayVeon Johnson, senior linebacker Jared Deason and junior defensive back Peyton Shoemaker.

The Highlands spread offense has found its groove mostly running the ball well averaging 163.4 yards per game while the passing game has kept defenses honest averaging 120.2 per contest. Senior Nick Kendall still leads the Bluebirds with 684 yards rushing on 134 attempts with nine touchdowns and 21 catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Highlands blocked well on all levels against Grant County.

"They're getting it. They're flying around and confident in what they're doing," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach of the offensive linemen. "The results are speaking for themselves."

Several receivers had nice catches for Highlands against Grant County. Senior quarterback Austin Hergott has completed 92-of-171 passes for 981 yards, seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Senior TJ Sipple has the most receiving yards with 235 on 18 catches with one touchdown. The passing game may need to win a game for the Bluebirds in the playoffs.

"Our passing game needs some work," said Austin Horner, Highalnds senior wide receiver. "We need to remember our routes and run crisp routes. Sometimes it gets in your head before you run the route that you don't want to drop the ball. It just puts a lot of pressure on the receivers. You just have to do it without thinking about it."

Boone County runs out of the I-formation offensively. That includes a twins set, the Power-I and a formation with a tight end on one side and two wide receivers on the other. Junior Peter Westhoff has played quarterback and senior Amadou Diaw has been the primary running back with senior Dylon Bishop lining up at tight end and in the slot as the primary wide receiver.

The Highlands 3-4 defense has picked it up in recent weeks. Teams have rushed for an average of 222.6 yards per game and 148.9 passing.

"The whole goal was to get better each week, trusting our keys and lining up right," Jones said. "I wish we could say 100 percent we're lining up right, but we still have to get better. We still have times where we're not lined up. If you don't line up right, you're already at a disadvantage. We'll continue to work on that. But we're getting better."

Senior nose tackle Tyler Robinson continues to give problems to opposing offensive linemen up front with 8.5 tackles for a loss and four quarterback sacks. Senior defensive lineman Luke Lindeman leads the Bluebirds with 4.5 sacks. But Robinson may be out against Boone County so others like senior defensive lineman Jordan Johnson may need to pick up their games.

"They've been preaching to us that we have to dominate this year," Johnson said. "The first couple games, we'd not been dominating at all. We have to live up to our name. We feel we have to do that to do well in the playoffs."

Bradley Greene and Austin Beal lead Highlands with two interceptions each with Drew Bravard and Trey Bowden recording two fumble recoveries each. Beal returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown against Grant County, but a block in the back call negated the return.

A couple seniors are out for the season with torn Anterior Cruciated Ligaments in linebacker Joe Dressman and defensive lineman Dalton Mallery. But they still have big roles with the team.

"Mostly you just have to keep your head up and stay positive as best as you can," Mallery said. "You want to help out as much as you can and do whatever you can to get the team going. When they make good plays, cheer them on and when they're down, help them get up."

Highlands and Boone County are playing each other for the first time since 2010. The Bluebirds ventured to Florence and handled the Rebels, 55-0 that year. Highlands is 34-3 all-time against Boone County. The Rebels last beat the Bluebirds, 14-8 in 1979.

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