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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Highlands-Cooper Game Story

Highlands outguns Cooper, 52-42

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Grant Murray (24) goes for extra yards in the season-opener while Cooper senior linebacker Bryce Leroy (15) holds on. Murray rushed 25 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 6.44 yards per touch. Highlands won the shootout, 52-42.
There was no doubt how far a win would take the Blue and White in terms of erasing last year's painful memories to open the season.

The offense looked like the balanced Highlands offenses of the past and the defense recovered three crucial fumbles as the Bluebirds outgunned the visiting Cooper Jaguars, 52-42 to open the season Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. It marked just the second-ever meeting between the two programs. Cooper beat Highlands, 37-13 pulling away in the last couple minutes in Union last year.

"That's what we preached to them all week, really all year," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "It's a long game. You have to trust each other. It's not going to be perfect either side of the ball. We made plays when we needed to make plays. It was a great show of character by the guys. Cooper played a good game. It was a great high school football game."

Both offensive lines had big games creating space for the skill position players. Highlands gained 488 yards of total offense on 66 plays for an average of about 7.4 yards per play and Cooper put up 479 yards on 71 plays for an average of about 6.7 per play.

Highlands wore down Cooper offensively because it does not have players going both directions while the Jaguars had a number of players go both ways. The Bluebirds outrushed the Jaguars, 367-241. Some of the Cooper players began putting their hands on their hips on the second offensive series of the game.

Bluebird senior running backs Grant Murray and Jared Pulsfort expected to have big seasons and started off well constantly bouncing off Cooper tacklers and gaining extra yards. Murray had 25 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 6.44 per touch and Pulsfort had 18 carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns averaging 7.3 a carry.

"I'm proud of the guys up front," said Scott Turner, Highlands Offensive Line Coach. "They worked hard. We kept after them. We were trying to hurry up a bit and wear them out some. Our guys kept the juices flowing. We opened up some holes, especially late in the game."

Brady Gosney put up nice numbers running and throwing the ball. The senior quarterback had nine carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns for an average of about 7.9 a carry.

But when Gosney had to throw the ball, he delivered with pinpoint accuracy completing 8-of-10 passes for 121 yards. Senior wide receiver Trent Buchert led Highlands with three catches for 15 yards and junior wide receiver Nick Veneman had two catches for 64 yards. Both were 3rd-and-long conversions. Junior wide receiver Braden Posey and senior wide receiver Chuckie Bucker had one catch each for 21 and 19 yards respectively.

"We just got in great shape in the offseason," said Trent Johnson, Highlands sophomore offensive lineman. "That offseason conditioning really helped us. (If) you just keep pounding the ball, things will happen."

Cooper had 26 first downs to 22 for Highlands. Jaden Jackson had a nice game for Cooper rushing the ball 17 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns for an average of about 6.2 yards a touch. Senior Justin Schlarman added 72 yards on six carries and a touchdown for an average of 12 per touch. Senior quarterback Jared Lonaker added 14 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown for an average of 4.6 per carry as the Jaguars had success running the read-option out of spread sets against the Highlands 3-4 defense.

Lonaker completed 18-of-26 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns to eight different receivers. Highlands held Dante Hendrix to four catches for 50 yards and just one touchdown. Senior wide receiver Shea Burns led the Jaguars with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Both teams converted about the same on third and fourth down. Cooper converted 6-of-10 on third down for 60 percent and both times on fourth down never punting the ball the entire game. Highlands converted 5-of-9 on third down for 56 percent and 1-of-2 for 50 percent on fourth down.

"About all I can say is we're lucky to win the game," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "We have to get better. We're not as far along as I thought we'd be."

The game started with that rough feeling of last year. Cooper scored quickly when Jackson run between the tackles for an 18-yard run and senior kicker Mitchell Hollifield hit his first of six point-after-touchdown attempts.

Highlands punted twice in the first half and senior Cam'Ron Johnston pinned Cooper inside the 10-yard-line both times. Cooper still moved the ball down the field for a touchdown capping it off when Jackson ran it in from three yards out to put the Jaguars up 14-0. Junior defensive back Joe Steiden nearly picked Lonaker off during that drive.

"We just have to play our keys and communicate in the backfield with the safeties so we can lock down every receiver we go against," Steiden said. "I have a lot of faith in the coaches to help us get better as a whole defense."

But Highlands answered that score. Murray broke free on the left side for a 34-yard touchdown run. The Bluebirds trailed 14-6 after missing the PAT.

Cooper drove down the field again and scored when Lonaker hit Hendrix in the right flat and ran it in from 18 yards out with 16 seconds left in the first quarter to go up 21-6. The Jaguars did not score the rest of the half.

Johnston backed Cooper to its own 1-yard line to start the second quarter. That's when Highlands senior linebacker Dalton Cornett made a huge play. After Lonaker rushed for no gain, he handed the ball to senior running back Blake Stephens, but the ball came out in the end zone. Cornett landed on it for a defensive touchdown. Highlands trailed 21-12 after missing the two-point conversion pass with 8:53 left in the first half.

"We definitely took advantage of whenever they turned the ball over," Cornett said. "That's definitely what made the game defensively at least. After (Johnston) pinned them down on the 1-yard line, we just did what we do. Luckily, (the ball) came out and I jumped on it."

Cooper drove the field again, but had to settle for a field-goal attempt. But it flew wide left with 5:37 left in the first half.

Highlands took over and moved down the field aided by a Cooper personal foul helmet-to-helmet penalty. Pulsfort scored from a yard out with 1:19 left in the quarter to trim the lead to 21-18 after another missed PAT kick.

Highlands took the momentum into the second half. Gosney faked the hand-off and ran to the left making a few nifty moves on his way to the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown to put Highlands up 24-21 just 42 seconds into the third quarter following a third Highlands missed PAT kick.

But Cooper came back to take a 28-24 lead. Lonaker found Burns for a 21-yard touchdown pass. But Highlands responded when Gosney scored from a yard out and sophomore Nick Bowman hit the PAT kick to put Highlands back up 31-28. Gosney hit Veneman for a 44-yard strike on 3rd-and-13 on the drive.

Following a Schlarman 43-yard touchdown that put Cooper back up 35-31, Murray broke around the left side again to score a 22-yard touchdown seconds before the third quarter ended. Highlands didn't trail after that score.

The defense then came through with another key fumble recovery. Lonaker mishandled the ball and Highlands senior linebacker Noah Kremer-Stegman recovered it at the Cooper 35.

Highlands wasted no time scoring. Pulsfort broke free for a 29-yard score just seven seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Bluebirds a 45-35 lead.

Cooper drove the field again, but took six minutes, 35 seconds off the clock before Lonaker punched it in from a yard out. Highlands led 45-42 at that point.

The Jaguars tried an onside kick, but Highlands recovered. Pulsfort broke free again for a 32-yard score to make the final score of 52-42 with 2:14 left in the game.

Cooper quickly moved the ball downfield. But the Jaguars fumbled the ball at the Highlands 1-yard-line and Cornett recovered with 56 seconds left. The Bluebirds then ran out the clock.

Highlands travels down the road to Alexandria to face the Campbell County Camels on Friday at 7 p.m. East Central (Indiana) beat the Camels, 21-7 Friday.

Link to Box Score

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