|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands running back Nick Kendall runs behind offensive linemen Bo Hebel (55), Kyle Finfrock (72) and Nathan Raleigh (right) in Friday's game against Dixie Heights. Kendall had 115 yards rushing on 26 carries and two touchdowns in the win.|
The Highlands Bluebirds football team (2-5 overall) wore down the Dixie Heights Colonels (1-6) for a 42-7 Class 5A, District 5 victory Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. Highlands entered the game fresh off its bye week to pick up the 870th victory in program history. Only Valdosta High in South Georgia has more victories in school history with 896.
"The bye week was huge," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We had a great week really focusing on what we needed to get done. The guys responded playing with a lot of energy."
The win extended the Bluebird winning streak in district games to 29 and snapped its first four-game losing streak since 1948. Highlands last lost a district game to Covington Catholic in 2006.
The Highlands defense held Dixie Heights in check until the offense scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away for the win. The Bluebirds had just five takeaways on the season entering the game. They recorded four against the Colonels with three fumble recoveries by junior outside linebacker Trey Bowden, junior defensive back Sam Taylor and junior defensive lineman Drew Bravard. Bravard leads Highlands with two fumble recoveries on the season.
"Whenever we can help the offense, it's really great for our team," Taylor said. "We just have to work hard every day and get after it in practice so we can do it again."
Junior Bradley Greene recorded just the second Highlands interception on the season and returned two punt returns for a total of 103 yards to set up two Bluebird touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The interception stalled a Dixie Heights drive into Highlands territory on its opening drive.
"We force teams into long drives. We just have to finish them off," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "Getting the turnover was a big key. We played with confidence. We're going to try to keep carrying that over."
Highlands also made some key stops on defense. On fourth down in the first half, Highlands senior defensive lineman Tyler stopped Dixie Heights quarterback Gunther Faeth on fourth down near midfield.
"We're really clicking now," Bowden said. "We've had great weeks of practice and have been working hard. It's all about reading your keys and doing your job. It sounds easy, but it's about getting out there and actually doing it."
The Highlands offensive line opened holes better in the second half. The Bluebirds have run the ball well in their two wins. The ran for 313 yards in their other win of the season, 38-15 over Campbell County back on Aug. 28.
"We just went with what was there," Weinrich said. "We got on a role and it was hard to not keep going to it. The offensive line did a great job. The running backs did a great job and the receivers were blocking well. It was a total team effort."
The Bluebirds ran for 255 yards against Dixie Heights and 332 total gaining 18 first downs. Senior Nick Kendall led Highlands with 115 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns with Grant Murray going for 72 yards on nine carries. Jared Pulsfort and quarterback Austin Hergott added 34 yards rushing and a touchdown.
"We hope to get it together again," said Mitch Schry, Highlands junior offensive lineman. "We were doing great fundamentally. That's what I think they have to do."
Highlands did make some things happen with the passing game. Hergott completed 10-of-17 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Senior Chandler New led the Bluebirds with four catches for 34 yards and a score.
Dixie Heights ran for 242 yards and passed for 39 for a total of 281 yards. Faeth led Dixie Heights with 18 carries for 148 yards. But the majority of those came on the Colonels' lone touchdown run of 84 yards with 2:54 left in the third quarter. Highlands held Dixie Heights' leading rusher in Jose Torres to 54 yards on 12 rushes.
The Bluebirds scored the lone touchdown of the first half with six minutes left in the second quarter. Highlands did a double handoff to Kendall for the 4-yard score.
Highlands took advantage of Bowden's fumble recovery at the Dixie Heights 17. Jared Dougherty hit a 25-yard field goal with 7:22 left in the third to put the Bluebirds up 10-0.
The Bluebirds received the ball back minutes later and Kendall scored his second touchdown sweeping left for a 6-yard score. On the conversion attempt, Cain took the snap right and scored on the fake point-after kick out of the holding position. That gave Highlands an 18-0 lead.
Faeth faked the give up the middle then ran around the right side for his touchdown. That trimmed the Bluebird lead to 18-7.
But Highlands responded with a drive and Dougherty hit a 31-yard field goal just five seconds into the fourth quarter to put the Bluebirds up 21-7. After the next Dixie Heights drive stalled near midfield, Greene returned the punt to the Dixie Heights 23 and Hergott finished it off with a 7-yard run up the middle to give Highlands a 28-7 advantage.
The Bluebirds scored again a minute later following a fumble recovery at the Colonel 19. New took a quick out from Hergott, broke a few tackles and scored the touchdown to make it 35-7 Bluebirds.
Highlands then capped off the scoring with 1:12 left in the game. Pulsfort scored from 9 yards out to make the final score.
Highlands takes on arch-rival Covington Catholic on Oct. 17. Game time is 1 p.m. in Park Hills.