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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Highlands seniors go out with 48-11 overall record

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior linebackers Jared Dougherty (10), Ben Ziegler (34) and Luke Lindeman (98) converge on Pulaski County running back George Gregory (16) in the Class 5A state semifinal contest in November. Those are three of 29 seniors that finished 48-11 in four years of high school with four district and region championships, four state semifinal appearances, two state championships and a runner-up finish.
In a sports world that looks at what a team has done lately, people can easily look down on the 8-6 season the Highlands Bluebirds football team completed in November. Highlands lost 41-31 to Pulaski County in the state semifinals.

But the overall body of work was more than many can say in their four years of high school football. The senior class made of 29 members finished 48-11 with four district championships, four region championships, four state semifinal appearances, two state championships and a runner-up finish. Highlands owns the longest streak of consecutive region championships in the state with nine in a row.

"That's what I tried to tell the guys," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "I don't know if they appreciate it now because the expectations are so high here. So many teams would love to play in one semifinal. When I was a senior (in 1989) and we made the semifinals, it was the first time we made the semifinals since 1982. It was a huge deal. As a player, I remember thinking, 'Wow, it's the semifinals. It's Thanksgiving weekend. It's a chance to play in the state championship.' It became such a commonplace here that I hope the guys appreciate that they did do that this year. It wasn't the ending Highlands is used to recently. To think that this year wasn't successful is completely crazy. We had a great end to the season."

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Nick Kendall led a Highlands offense that averaged 197.5 yards per game rushing and scored an average of 30.9 points per game. Kendall led the Bluebirds with 1,485 yards rushing on 226 carries and 21 touchdowns and also led the team with 27 receptions for 227 yards and three touchdowns.

Kendall quickly pointed out that Highlands again beat Covington Catholic twice for the fifth straight years. Those wins extended the Bluebird winning streak to 15 in a row over the Colonels.

"We also fought against adversity because no one expected us to make the semifinals," Kendall said. "We came together as a team and made it that far. I wish we would have made it further. But everything happens for a reason."

Austin Hergott quarterbacked the team this year. He completed 139-of-253 passes for 1,722 yards, 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He is headed to Central Michigan University in June.

The Bluebirds graduate seven wide receivers in TJ Sipple, Austin Horner, Eric Miller, Chandler New, Mitch Cain, Tanner Groneck and Ryan Conley. Sipple led the the group with 24 catches for 315 yards and a touchdown and Miller had 19 catches for 344 yards and four touchdowns. Miller had seven catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the 44-22 Region 3 title game win over CovCath.

Players like Conley may not have seen the field as much as they might have liked. But Conley said the experience of putting on the Highlands jersey still made a difference in his life. Conley did have a touchdown reception against Grant County.

"I'm very happy I stuck it out," Conley said. "There's no experience like being with my guys who I've played football with since I was in the second grade. I never had any doubt about quitting. They're my teammates and I was going to be there for them."

Highlands also graduates five offensive lineman. They are Bo Hebel, center Evan Richardson, Carson Haas, Nathan Raleigh and Elijah Cox-Miller. Hebel also played on the defensive line some this year.

The Highlands defensive line started with Tyler Robinson and included Tyler Sexton, Caleb Mullikin, Dalton Mallery and Jordan Johnson. Robinson led the team with 11.5 tackles for a loss.

The Bluebirds graduate six linebackers in Jared Dougherty, Conner Welsch, Ben Ziegler, Luke Lindeman, Hank Johnson and Joe Dressman. Dougherty had two interceptions and Lindeman led the Bluebirds with 6.5 sacks.

Welsch said he'll still come around the games. He has younger brothers that may take the field one day in the Blue and White.

"It's a great time with all the guys," Welsch said. "There's nothing like a Friday night at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. I've been coming to these games ever since I could walk. My dad still comes. He's been coming for 20-plus years. I will support this school and this football team."

Dougherty will also be remembered for his kicking. He made 11-of-16 field-goal tries with a long of 46 against Campbell County and also hit 46-of-47 extra-point attempts. Dougherty made 207 PATs in his career to finish fifth in Kentucky history.

Dougherty also had 39 punts on the season for 139 yards for an average of 35.9 per kick. His longest punt of the season drove 60 yards.

The four defensive backs to graduate are Thomas Wood, Austin Mayhew, Austin Beal and Taylor Perez. Beal finished with three interceptions on the year. But Beal will always be rembered for his 70-yard interception return for a touchdown to tie the 2014 Class 4A state championship game at 42 in the fourth quarter.

That state championship marked the 23rd in school history. It is still tied with Louisville Trinity for the most football state titles in Kentucky history.

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