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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Highlands-Simon Kenton Football Preview

Highlands hopes to put on good Homecoming showing

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior defenders Dalton Cornett (41), Noah Kremer-Stegman (38) and Kyle Rust converge on the ball in the game Friday at St. Xavier. Highlands takes on Simon Kenton at 7 p.m. on Friday for Homecoming at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
The host football team will see a visiting team come to town for Homecoming that stands where the Highlands Bluebirds stood the previous six seasons before last year at the season's midway point.

That's a perfect 5-0.

But even though the Bluebirds (1-4) may be the underdog against the Simon Kenton Pioneers, they hope to pull off a huge win going into the bye week. Simon Kenton handled Highlands, 42-3 in Independence last year on its way to a 13-1 season capturing district and region championships before losing 42-28 to Lexington Lafayette in the Class 6A state semifinals.

"Hopefully, they'll use that to their advantage and realize there is going to be a lot of people here to watch the game," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "Whether it's Homecoming or not, Highlands-Simon Kenton should be a great crowd and a lot of electricity so it should be a lot of fun."

Highlands also hopes to avoid a second straight 1-5 start in the 7 p.m. contest at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. The Bluebirds have not lost five in a row since 1939. That team lost eight in a row.

Simon Kenton is clicking on all cylinders having outscored the first five opponents, 219-82 for an average of 43.8-16.4. The Pioneer offense has rushed for 1,066 yards and passed for 1,239 for averages of 213.2 and 247.8 yards per game behind an experienced offensive line led by juniors Sam Holt, Noah Turner and Colton Williams.

"As coaches, we appreciate the effort and commitment that our players show every day," said Jeff Marksberry, Simon Kenton Head Coach. "We have great leadership from our seniors that push our guys in practice to live up to the expectations that have been set within the team."

Third-year Pioneer senior starting quarterback Cameron Racke continues to put up numbers in the Simon Kenton Spread offense. He has completed 51-of-82 passes for 751 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. But the offensive coaching staff also lines Racke at running back where he has rushed the ball 72 times for 325 yards and four touchdowns averaging about 4.5 yards per touch.

"Racke is a nice player. He does a good job of finding the opening and getting to it. That's why they feel they need to get the ball in his hands," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "They're very balanced. They'll throw the ball as much as they'll run the ball. They have good concepts. They do a good job of putting themselves in good positions. It's going to come down to trusting our keys and flying around. Last year, we had opportunities to be successful. We're going to try to do that again this year. We can only control what we can control. That's going to be the goal."

When Racke is not the quarterback, junior Matt Shearer comes in at the spot. Shearer has completed 22-of-45 passes for 484 yards and five touchdowns.

Senior Dylan Hampton has taken over as the leading rusher for the graduated Dillon Powell. Hampton has rushed the ball 60 times for 336 yards and six touchdowns averaging 5.6 yards per carry and sophomore Jon Sergent has rushed for 289 yards on 26 attempts and two touchdowns averaging just more than 11 yards per touch.

Twelve different Pioneers have catches on the season. Junior Sam Murray leads the way with 20 catches for 259 yards and two touchdowns with senior Luke Vance hauling in 16 receptions for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Fisher Hayden owns 13 catches for 333 yards and five score.

"We're going to have to do a good job this week," said John Buchanan, Highlands senior defensive back. "Our defensive backs have to keep everything in front of us. We're just going to have to do our jobs, read our keys and we should be good. Their wide receivers do well with their routes. They're really crisp."

Opponents have outscored Highlands, 203-138 on the season for an average of 40.6-27.6. The Bluebird defense has allowed 1,237 yards rushing and 884 passing for averages of 247.4 and 176.8 per game respectively. Jones said changes are always possible on both sides of the ball and not just defensively.

"I don't think that ever ends. I think you're always looking even with JV games," Jones said. "There are guys that sometimes you don't have the confidence to put in the varsity games. You go out and watch the JV game then put them in varsity and they're successful. Everything they're doing is geared to get better. We're never content with anything. We need to build on the positives and eliminate the mistakes, especially the ones we've been making over and over again."

Highlands may need to create turnovers defensively to win the game in its 3-4 defense. The Bluebirds do have 10 this year compared to just five at this point last year. Senior linebacker Dalton Cornett leads Highlands with three fumble recoveries and senior defensive back Kyle Rust has the team's lone interception.

The Bluebird offensive line received a huge boost with the return of senior offensive lineman Kyle Finfrock last week. But junior Sam Sparks and senior Mitch Schry did not play. Schry hopes to return this week after suffering a concussion.

Highlands senior quarterback Brady Gosney went over the 1,000-yard mark on the season passing the ball. Gosney has completed 86-of-136 passes for 1,059 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Bluebirds averages 212 yards per game passing.

Gosney has completed passes to 11 different receivers scrambling out of the pocket some in the Highlands Spread offense. Junior Nick Veneman leads the way with 25 receptions for 485 yards and five touchdowns.

"We have to just get open and know where the other receivers are," said Grant Summers, Highlands junior wide receiver. "If you're running a deep route, no one is going to be in the middle so you just come back to the ball for him to throw it to you. If (Gosney) is going to run, we have to become blockers. That's really all we can do." 

The Bluebirds make things happen when they don't turn the ball over. They lost a fumble and threw an interception in the 45-18 loss at Louisville St. Xavier on Friday. The fumble was a second or two away from being an incomplete pass.

"You see that on television every Saturday, Sunday and Friday night game," Weinrich said. "It's all those things. You have to create your own breaks and you have to hope if those situations present themselves, you can overcome them. That's where we're trying to get to."

Highlands has rushed for 760 yards this year for an average of 152 per contest. The Bluebirds may need to use the pass to set up the run if Simon Kenton keys on the Highlands running game like the past few opponents have. Senior Grant Murray leads Highlands with 334 yards rushing on 66 carries and four touchdowns for an average of just more than five yards per touch. Senior Jared Pulsfort is next with 252 yards rushing on 56 carries and five touchdowns for an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

Simon Kenton plays a combination of 50 and 3-4 defenses. Senior linebacker Brian Carter lead the Pioneers with 55 tackles and junior defensive back Jaren Cooper has a team-high three interceptions with senior defensive back Trent Kincaid recording two. Four Pioneers have one fumble each.

"They'll try to trick you. They're really good at what they do," Weinrich said. "They have some really good players at some key spots. They're fun to watch on film. They do it the right way."

Last year's Simon Kenton win marked just the second win for the Pioneers in the series. Highlands still leads the all-time series 25-2.

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