But a ton of silver linings came out of this 42-33 home loss to the Scott County Cardinals on Friday for the Highlands Bluebirds football team (1-2). The Bluebirds proved they can play a top-5 team in Class 6A, The Cardinals just made more plays offensively and defensively to pull out the win.
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Both teams ran 68 plays offensively. The Cardinals garnered 482 yards for an average of just more than seven yards per play compared to 420 for the Bluebirds for an average of about 6.2 per carry.
"We got guys and everyone is getting a feel for what we can do," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "The hardest part for receivers is getting them the ball. It's not as easy as handing it off to a running back so we're just going to keep working at what we're doing and try to get better executing the plays. Again, we really stopped ourselves. As soon as we get that cleaned up, I really think this offense can be pretty explosive."
Scott County tries to control the game with its precise traditional Wing-T offense. The Cardinals did that again gaining 325 yards on the ground. Senior Kendrick Hamilton led the charge rushing for 204 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns for an average of just more than 11 yards per carry and junior halfback Brice Fryman had 103 yards on 11 carries for an average of about 9.4 yards per touch.
"We'll look at the film and just get better," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "If everyone trusts their keys and plays fast, that's great. You're going to be able to make plays. Unfortunately when you're playing the Wing-T, it takes just one guy not doing his job. They burn you with it. You have to do it every single play no matter what. I think we're taking steps forward."
Scott County quarterback Josh Davis did complete 4-of-6 passes including two to Fryman for 30 yards. The Bluebirds held sophomore wide receiver Glenn Covington to just one catch for five yards. The officials ejected Covington in the second quarter.
"I know coach Weinrich is disappointed in the loss, but they are considerably better than where they were at this time last year," said Jim McKee, Scott County Head Coach. "They just play such a tough schedule. If they can just get through that gauntlet, they'll be fine. They'll be right there knocking on the door."
Despite that, the Highlands defense showed improvements. Sophomore linebacker Nick Bowman, senior defensive lineman Jacob Johnson, senior linebacker Trey Bowden and senior linebacker Luke Ross had tackles for a loss. Ross, Bowden and senior linebacker Dalton Cornett all recorded fumble recoveries for the Bluebirds. Cornett has a team-high three on the season.
Highlands found a sparkplug offensively in career-highs from senior quarterback Brady Gosney and junior wide receiver Nick Veneman. Gosney completed 21-of-35 passes for 325 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Veneman had nine receptions for 225 yards and four touchdowns.
Scott County focused on the Highlands running game in its 3-4 defense. Seven wide receivers had catches for the Bluebirds. After Veneman, junior Griffin Huber hauled in three passes for 26 yards with junior Jared Wogan making three catches for 14 yards.
Scott County held Highlands to 95 yards rushing. Senior Grant Murray had 55 yards rushing on 14 attempts and senior Jared Pulsfort had 46 on 11 carries.
The game started off rough for Highlands. The Cardinals scored just 39 seconds into the game on two plays. Hamilton took a sweep left 51 yards for a touchdown and junior Colin Dempster made his first of six extra-point kicks.
But Highlands responded with a touchdown drive. On third down, Gosney found Veneman for a 3-yard score with 8:15 left in the first quarter. But Highlands missed the PAT leaving the score 7-6 Cardinals.
Scott County scored twice more in the second quarter to go up 21-6. Davis scored from a yard out with 5:52 left in the quarter and Hamilton struck from 28 yards out with 47 seconds left in the quarter.
But the Bluebirds closed the gap just 14 seconds later. Following a nice kick return, Veneman got behind the Cardinal defense for a 56-yard touchdown strike.
Highlands went on a nice drive in the second quarter to trim the lead to 21-20 at halftime. After a long pass to Veneman, Gosney scored from a yard out with 6:53 left in the half.
Highlands received the ball to start the second half and took its lone lead about two minutes into it. Veneman again burned the Cardinals for a 34-yard touchdown pass and Nick Bowman hit the PAT to put Highlands up 27-21.
The lead held up for several minutes as both teams exchanged turnovers. Hamilton struck again on another sweep left to put the Cardinals up for good at 28-27 with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
"When (the Wing-T) works I have to attribute it to (the system and repetitions in practice)," McKee said. "When it doesn't work, the Wing-T doesn't look too good. They made us look bad at certain times. In the end, I'm very, very pleased with the win."
Scott County then took advantage of a Highlands lost fumble at the Bluebird 20-yard line. Davis scored from a yard out to put the Cardinals up 35-27.
"They figured out how we were adjusting to things midway through the third quarter," Jones said. "They did a nice job getting the criss-cross traps and things like that. It took us a little while to get adjusted. You can't simulate the offense. You can use scout teams and film. But until you go out and play against them, you can't get a feel for the game."
Scott County went up 15 with 7:48 left in the fourth quarter. Jacob Burton scored from five yards out to make the score 42-27.
Highlands did drive deep into Scott County territory, but could not score on fourth down. But the Bluebirds did get the ball back and Gosney hit Veneman for a 28-yard score with 1:13 left in the game. After Highlands did not convert the two-point play, Hamilton recovered the onside kick attempt.
"They were doing a couple different things that were giving us trouble with plays we were having success with early on," Weinrich said. "We made a couple adjustments and our guys responded well. We were able to keep some drives alive. They're doing a good job learning on the run. That comes with experience. They're able to come talk to us (coaches) about what they're seeing what might be there. A lot of the stuff that turned out to be big was them coming to us and saying, 'I think I can do this against this person' or whatever. It's a work in progress."
Highlands travels to Ryle (3-0) on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m. in Union.
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