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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Highlands-Covington Catholic Preview

Bluebirds hope to continue run of dominance against Colonels

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior nose tackle Tyler Robinson (right) sacks Dixie Heights quarterback Gunther Faeth (left) in Friday's game. Robinson leads Highlands with  four sacks and seven tackles for a loss.
The hope is that Friday's 42-7 win over Dixie Heights (1-6 overall) signifies a turn in the usually successful direction for the vaunted Highlands Bluebirds football program.

That comes with the arch-rival Covington Catholic Colonels next on the schedule. The two enter Saturday's 1 p.m. game in Park Hills off Class 5A, District 5 wins. Covington Catholic opened district play Saturday with a pull-away 47-9 win over the Grant County Braves (3-4).

Both teams enter the game with uncharacteristic 2-5 records facing tough competition in the first six games. Highlands has been outscored, 240-154 on the season and CovCath has been outscored 207-151.

The one common opponent is the 6-1 Ryle Raiders. The Colonels lost by a touchdown, 35-28 to the Raiders in Park Hills on Aug. 21 to open the season and Ryle pulled away for a 48-24 win over the Bluebirds in Fort Thomas on Sept. 11.

"We are getting better every week," said Eddie Eviston, first-year CovCath Head Coach. "As a true competitor, it should not matter who the competition is. That is what we are trying to preach."

But like usual, the winner Saturday could once again claim the district championship. The Bluebirds have won the last 13 meetings dating back to Covington Catholic's last state championship run in 2006.

"In Kentucky, the nice thing is it's (about) your district games," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "Last week was huge and this week is huge and next week. But right now, it's beating CovCath. Once the game starts, we have to focus on winning every single play. We're preparing the same way we've prepared all season."

Highlands has torn apart Covington Catholic with its spread offense in recent meetings. The Bluebirds average 157.4 yards per game rushing and 129.7 passing,

Highlands senior Nick Kendall continues to lead Highlands in both rushing and receiving the ball. Kendall has rushed for 546 yards on 108 carries and seven touchdowns and caught 20 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

"The line worked really well," Kendall said. "But I feel like the thing that led to the success of the running game was the success in the passing game because it made (Dixie Heights) focus on both instead of just the running game. It will be hard to stop the long ball because Austin's got a cannon."

Highlands has rushed the ball well in its two wins. But at some point, Highlands may have to beat someone with the passing game. Senior quarterback Austin Hergott has completed 77-of-150 passes for 807 yards for six touchdowns.

"We just have to trust our keys and trust our reads," Weinrich said. "When the situation is there to take the chance, then we do it."

The Bluebirds face a Colonel defense that has struggled against the tough competition. The Colonels have allowed 1,205 yards rushing and 1,143 passing on the season and have recorded just seven takeaways on the season in three fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Junior linebacker Alex Shelton leads the Colonels with 52 tackles on the season.

The Bluebird 3-4 defense put together a solid game against Dixie Heights recovering three fumbles and an interception. Junior defensive lineman Drew Bravard leads the Bluebirds with two fumble recoveries.

"We just have to stay focused," said Jared Dougherty, Highlands senior linebacker. "We can't get too hyped because we had a rough start to begin the year. Last week, we really picked it up. Instead of coming off the field all angry, we started to get pumped when one thing went well. We just need to stay positive all the time. We can't let the game get to us. We have to play the game."

The Bluebirds saw success by playing aggressive football against Dixie Heights and will need more of the same Saturday. Senior nose tackle Tyler Robinson leads the Bluebirds with seven tackles for a loss and four quarterback sacks. Senior linebacker Ben Ziegler also has 3.5 sacks for Highlands.

"They have a lot of different personnel packages so they're playing a lot of guys," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "It seems as though they're figuring out who their guys are. They're getting better every week getting used to the offense and they style they're playing. We'll just hope that our improvement is better."

Covington Catholic has rushed for 345 and 241 yards in its wins over Beechwood and Grant County. The Colonels have rushed for 1,090 yards and passed for 957 yards on the season. Sophomore quarterback AJ Mayer has thrown for all the yards completing 81-of-177 passes with six touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The Colonels hoped for big things from senior running back Ben Darlington this year. He rushed for 111 yards on 13 carries against Ryle, but is out for the season with a leg injury. Senior Ryan McGinness and sophomore Grant Dyer have picked up the slack running the ball. Dyer leads the team with 309 yards on 80 carries and four touchdown with McGinness gaining 303 on 48 carries and three touchdowns.

Mayer is also not afraid to run. He has 237 yards rushing on 66 carries and three touchdowns. McGinness leads CovCath with 17 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown.

Highlands concludes the regular season against Grant County (3-4) and Boone County (0-7). The Bluebirds will be favored in both games.

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