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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Highlands moves to Region 2 for 2016, 2017 football playoffs

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, The Highlands Bluebirds football team will play in Class 5A, Region 2 in the 2016 and 2017 playoffs as a result of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association approving cross-districting for the playoffs for the largest two classes.
It may be a long way from the football season beginning let alone the postseason.

But once that time arrives in November, fans will notice a difference in playoff opponents in at least the first round. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association approved the cross-districting measure in the state's largest two classes on Thursday.

The Highlands Bluebirds will face an opponent from Class 5A, District 4 as opposed to District 6 like last year. District 5 champion Highlands opened the playoffs with a 50-14 thrashing of Woodford County on its way to a state-best current run of nine straight region championships.

The Bluebirds will open the playoffs against a public-school Louisville program in the Fern Creek Tigers, Atherton Rebels, Doss Dragons, Fairdale Bulldogs, Iroquois Raiders or the Southern Trojans. Highlands has faced those schools just one time in its proud 101-year history. It came during the 2000 Class 3A state championship run when the Bluebirds handled Fern Creek, 55-0 in the second game of the season after a 42-29 win over Louisville Trinity to open the campaign.

"Last year, when we prepared for Woodford County, we knew how good they were so we weren't taking them lightly because they had those big offensive lineman (Drake Jackson, Seth Joest and Saige Young)," said Michael Dunn, Highlands junior-to-be offensive lineman. "We were hearing about them all week. We were confident with what we were doing. But I'm not familiar with the teams in the Louisville district."

District 5 will be paired with District 3 in the 5A playoffs in 2017 before facing District 6 opponents in Region 3 again in 2018. District 3 consists of the Bullitt East Chargers, Bullitt Central Cougars, Nelson County Cardinals, North Bullitt Eagles, Oldham County Colonels and the South Oldham Dragons.

Aside from that, fans could notice a huge change in the state semifinals. Highlands would play host to a team from around Bowling Green from District 2 or from the western Kentucky District 1 such as Christian County or Owensboro. The Bluebirds would hit the road for the state semifinals to one of those places in 2017.

Highlands welcomes the diversity the format brings. In four years in 4A between 2011 and 2014, Highlands beat three of the same opponents in the same round all four years. The Bluebirds took down Boyd County in the first round, Covington Catholic in the region title game and Lexington Catholic in the state semifinals all four years. Even in the second round, the Bluebirds beat Ashland Blazer three straight years between 2012 and 2014.

Highlands saw the same five teams in the playoffs in 2013 making it back to Bowling Green for a state championship a seventh straight time. The only difference is the Bluebirds lost to the Collins Titans with seven seconds left that year after handling Collins, 47-0 in the 2012 4A title game.

Since Highlands dropped to 4A in 2011 before returning to 5A last year, the Bowling Green Purples have won four state championships in five years including a 21-7 win over Pulaski County last year. The only time in the nine-year history of 5A that neither Highlands nor Bowling Green won it came in 2014 when Pulaski County edged Graves County, 14-7 in a rain-soaked title game.

"If you're going to win the (state championship), you're going to have to play those guys at some point anyway," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We haven't worried about it. It is kind of nice to change things up once in a while for both sides not to play the same teams all the time."

The KHSAA has tried different playoff formats in the past. Every class participated in the cross-districting in 2007. The only difference is Highlands beat District 5 opponents Scott and Covington Catholic in the first two rounds respectively before beating District 8 champion Letcher County Central in the Region 3 title game, 52-12. Teams also played district opponents in the first two rounds in 2006.

Highlands takes next week off for Spring Break before starting spring practice the next week. The Bluebirds will practice nine of the allowed 10 days this year.

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