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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Bluebirds pound Red Colonels, 52-21

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior defensive backs Kyle Rust (30) and Bradley Greene (middle) pursue Dixie Heights junior running back Jose Torres (31) in Friday's playoff game. Highlands won the second-round Class 5A playoff game 52-21.
The Blue and White sent out another clear message Friday.

The vaunted Highlands Bluebirds football team (7-5) is ready to make another playoff run after another convincing win 52-21 over the Dixie Heights Colonels (3-9). The Bluebirds have hit the half-century mark in both games after beating Woodford County, 50-14 in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

"They did a good job executing what we practiced all week," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "They came out and did exactly what we were hoping they would do. They executed plays. Some things we thought would be there weren't. We adjusted and did some things I didn't think we would do. We had a great week of practice. That carried over into the game."

The result is another region finals match-up with arch-rival Covington Catholic (5-7) back in Fort Thomas. Highlands has beaten CovCath four straight years in both the regular season and playoffs.

Highlands handled District 5 rival Dixie Heights, 42-7 during the regular season in Fort Thomas, but did not pull away until the fourth quarter. The Bluebirds have outscored both playoff opponents by a combined 102-35 and outgained them 883-459 in total offense including 722-215 on the ground.

The Bluebird running backs hit the holes hard, bounced off linebackers or defensive backs then hit full steam ahead to the end zone on their way to 422 yards on 37 carries for an average of just more than 11.4 yards per carry. Highlands senior Nick Kendall again led the way going for 238 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns. Kendall went over the 1,000-yard plateau as a result with 1,117 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns.

But Grant Murray and Jared Pulsfort also got in on the rushing attack. Murray ran for 127 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns and Pulsfort added a score.

"We prepared well all week and we came out and executed all game long," said Kyle Finfrock, Highlands junior offensive lineman. "We knew they were going to battle and that's what they did. We just fought harder. It's all won in the trenches. That's what we did."

Highlands again did not have to pass much. But quarterback Austin Hergott did complete 4-of-11 attempts for 72 yards including a 51-yard strike to Braden Posey and two to Mitch Cain for 14 yards and a touchdown.

The Bluebird defense stopped the Colonels inside the red zone in the second quarter. The Bluebirds stopped a pass one yard short of the first down and forced an incomplete pass on the other.

"Anytime you get a big stop on fourth down, it's either a boost in momentum or its a change," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "They may get some first downs, but the ultimate goal is to get them off the field before they score. I felt like we played pretty well for quite a bit of the game." 

Highlands gained 16 first downs to 12 for the visitors and executed better on first down. The Bluebirds also executed better on third down converting 5-of-12 for about 42 percent compared to 5-of-14 for about 36 percent for the Colonels.

The Bluebirds outgained the Colonels, 494-297 in total offense. Dixie Heights managed just 106 on the ground. Highlands held Dixie's leading rusher in Jose Torres to 54 yards rushing on nine carries.

The Colonels did have some success passing the ball to Ethan Schulte. Schulte had six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Dixie Heights senior quarterback Gunther Faeth completed 15-of-29 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.

Dixie Heights ran some motion out of its pro-style base offense. The Colonels also ran some sets with two fullbacks in front of Faeth and Torres. But the Bluebirds contained it.

"We had to fly around, make sure we keep our gaps, read our keys correctly and make sure they ran outside," said Trent Webster, Highlands junior linebacker. "It takes longer to get to the end zone that way than if they ran straight forward."

Highlands punted on its first possession but kept it when Dixie Heights committed a roughing-the-kicker penalty. On the next play, Murray ran up the middle, bounced to the left and hustled 67 yards for the touchdown to put Highlands up 7-0 with 8:39 left in the first quarter.

Following a Dixie Heights punt, Highlands received the ball at its own 10-yard line. But Kendall broke off a run similar to Murray's first score going for 90 yards to put the Bluebirds up 14-0 with 5:07 left in the quarter.

Following the first stop on fourth down in the red zone, Kendall struck again. He did it from 82 yards out to give Highlands a 21-0 lead just 1:03 into the second quarter. The Bluebirds led by that score at halftime.

Highlands added to its lead on its first possession of the first half. Hergott completed a 51-yard bomb to Posey. That set up Hergott's 11-yard touchdown pass to Cain on the right side putting the Bluebirds up 28-0 with 9:50 to go in the second half.

"You have to get separation, beat the (defensive back) to the ball and make the play," Posey said. "We throw and catch every day. We have some of the best receivers in Northern Kentucky and I think any of our receivers can catch the ball and make plays."

Dixie Heights scored with 5:49 left in the quarter. Faeth hit Schulte for a 45-yard score to cut the Highlands lead to 28-7.

But the Bluebirds responded quickly. Murray scored from 33 yards out to put Highlands up 35-7 with 5:03 left in the quarter.

Highlands took the ball back when Bradley Greene intercepted Faeth. Greene returned it for a touchdown. But it was called back because of a block-in-the-back penalty. Highlands still drove down and scored when Pulsfort ran it in from 20 yards out. The Bluebirds led 42-7 with 3:56 left in the third quarter.

Faeth hit Seth Caple for an 8-yard touchdown before Daugherty made a field goal from 37 yards out. That gave Highlands a 45-14 lead after three quarters.

The teams traded defensive scores in the fourth quarter. Austin Mayhew did it first for Highlands returning a fumble 33 yards for the score with 9:53 left in the game.

"It just felt amazing. I just saw the ball, picked it up and started running with it," Mayhew said. "We ended up getting that defensive touchdown."

Cameron Barnett scored for Dixie Heights with 2:35 left in the game. He returned a Bluebird fumble 41 yards for the score.

The 2009 and 2010 teams also beat Dixie Heights during the regular season and in the second round of the playoffs. Highlands moved to 64-8 all-time against the Colonels. The Bluebirds have beaten Dixie Heights more than any other opponent in school history.

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