Saturday, September 24, 2016

Highlands-Simon Kenton Game Story

Pioneers outgun Bluebirds on Homecoming


PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Braden Posey (1) makes a move Friday. Posey had seven catches for 65 yards against Simon Kenton.
The Blue and White put up Highlandsesque numbers against an experienced defense on Friday.

The problem is the Highlands Bluebird football team's defense allowed much more of that against the Simon Kenton Pioneers at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. The undefeated Pioneers (6-0 overall) left Fort Thomas with a Highlands school record tying 77-53 non-district victory as a result (see notebook). That school record for the most points by both Highlands and an opponent came three years ago when the Bluebirds beat visiting Warren Central, 71-69 for a combined 140 points.

The Bluebird offense ran 95 plays in the loss for 637 yards for an average of about 6.7 yards per play. But the Pioneer offense put up 752 yards on 77 plays for an average of about 9.8 yards per play. The Pioneers converted 5-of-9 on third down for 56 percent and had 29 first downs compared to 17-of-23 for 74 percent on third down and 30 first downs for Highlands. Both teams converted 2-of-3 fourth-down tries for 67 percent.

"There's really no excuse at this point," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "We've gone over it and over it. When your offense scores 53 points, you ought to win the game and that's just the bottom line. We're not making the plays that we need to make. We need to make fourth-down plays and we're not making them so we have to figure out what it's going to take to make them."

Highlands rushed for 243 yards and passed for 394. Bluebird quarterback Brady Gosney completed 29-of-44 passes for that total with four touchdowns and one interception. Junior wide receiver Nick Veneman again had a big game with four catches for 141 yards and three touchdowns.


"It doesn't matter if it's 3-0 or 100-99, you either win or you lose and we lost so we have to get better," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "(The Pioneers) moved some of their personnel around. We missed a couple opportunities to keep it a one-score game and keep it going back-and-forth. If that's the kind of game you're playing, you can't afford to lose a possession. Once we lost a possession, we were playing from behind so we were pressing a little bit to make bigger plays quicker. What was working was being methodical in the beginning. Once we got behind by a couple scores, they weren't slowing down so we had to press a little bit."

Eight different receivers made catches for Highlands. Junior Braden Posey and senior Trent Buchert had seven catches for 65 yards each.

But the Highlands offensive line led by seniors Kyle Finfrock, Trey King, Michael Davidson and juniors Michael Dunn and Josh Homer came up big making room for the Highlands running backs after the running game struggled in recent weeks. Bluebird senior Jared Pulsfort ran for 116 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns for an average of 7.25 a carry and senior Grant Murray had 106 yards on 23 carries for an average of 4.6 per carry.

The Highlands defense knew it needed to find a way to contain Simon Kenton senior quarterback Cameron Racke to increase the chances to win. But once again, the Bluebirds could not put any pressure on Racke or Simon Kenton junior quarterback Matt Shearer when the Pioneers lined Racke up at running back.

The Pioneers more than made them pay as a result. Racke completed 17-of-21 passes for 273 yards and six touchdowns and Shearer completed 7-of-10 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown. Racke also rushed for 130 yards on 15 carries and three touchdowns for an average of 8.6 yards per carry.

Highlands particularly could not stop Simon Kenton senior wide receiver Luke Vance and junior Sam Murray. The duo burned the Highlands defense all over the field whether it was a fade route in one-on-one coverage or taking a short pass such as an inside wide receiver screen, breaking a few tackles and taking it to the house. Murray had six catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns averaging 28 yards per catch and Vance had eight catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns averaging 21 yards per reception. The Highlands defenders often got caught not looking back to see the ball defending the pass against the taller Simon Kenton wide receivers.

The Highlands defense returned more returning starters from last year as opposed to two from the 2014 Class 4A state championship team. Jones did not leave out the possibility of bringing up underclassmen from the junior varsity team if the upperclassmen do not get the job done.

"We've been looking at options. We're constantly looking for answers," Jones said. "But sometimes, you just don't find them. You just have to keep playing hard. That's all we can ask of the guys now. We have to turn this thing around. That doubt starts to build in your head and you're so worried about making mistakes that you end up making bigger mistakes. We have to find a way to get better. If we don't get better, it's going to be a short season."

Highlands started the game with the ball and it did not take long to find the end zone. Pulsfort took a third-and-short carry off the left side for a 62-yard touchdown scamper just 96 seconds into the game. But the score remained 6-0 after Highlands missed the extra-point attempt.

But Simon Kenton moved the ball down the field. Racke finished off the drive with 8:01 left in the first quarter with a 10-yard touchdown run and Christian Seger added the first of 11 extra-point tries to put the Pioneers up 7-6.

But Highlands did not stay down long. Gosney faked a hand-off then found Veneman wide-open down the right sideline for a 58-yard touchdown reception with 6:56 left in the quarter. Sophomore Nick Bowman made the extra-point kick to give Highlands a 13-7 advantage.

Simon Kenton again responded when Racke hit junior Fisher Hayden for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 4:53 left in the quarter. The Pioneers led 14-13 at that point.

Highlands responded with another methodical drive. Gosney scored from two yards out faking a hand-off to Pulsfort with 2:15 left in the quarter to put Highlands back up 20-14 before Shearer found Vance for a 50-yard touchdown pass with 1:41 left in the quarter.

But the Bluebirds escaped the first quarter with the lead. Veneman ran another pretty route to the right post and Gosney found him for a 68-yard score with 55 seconds left in the quarter.

The Highlands defense then came through on fourth down. The Pioneers pitched the ball to sophomore Jon Sergent. But Highlands senior linebacker Dalton Cornett stopped Sergent shy of the first down and Highlands capitalized. Pulsfort finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown drive with 7:51 in the quarter.

But the Simon Kenton offense struck with a big play. Vance got behind the Highlands secondary for a 56-yard touchdown reception with 7:05 left in the quarter to trim the Bluebird advantage to 34-28.

But Highlands did not blink. Gosney threaded a pass to Veneman for a 15-yard score with 4:16 left in the half. The Bluebirds led 41-28 at that point.

But Simon Kenton held Highlands on third down following a Racke 5-yard score with 3:03 left in the half. That led the Pioneers take the lead for good at 42-41 at halftime. Racke found Sam Murray down the right side for a touchdown with 1:07 left in the half.

Highlands moved into Simon Kenton territory on its final drive of the half. But a pass into the end zone on the final play of the half fell incomplete.

It took just 14 seconds for the Pioneers to go up 49-41 to start the second half. Vance took a screen pass from Racke and broke several Highlands tackles on the way to the end zone for a 65-yard score.

The teams then traded interceptions. Senior Gavin Ball picked off Gosney before Highlands senior defensive back Sam Taylor returned the favor. That marked just the second interception of the season for the Bluebirds. Highlands also stopped Simon Kenton in the second half when senior defensive back Kyle Rust recovered a fumble inside the Highlands 5-yard line.

But Racke reeled off a 60-yard touchdown run to put Simon Kenton up 56-41 before Gosney found sophomore Jared Wogan for a touchdown just before the third quarter ended. Highlands did not convert the two-point attempt and trailed 56-47 entering the fourth quarter.

Racke found Vance for an 11-yard score in the fourth quarter. Pulsfort scored from three yards out with 5:59 left in the game to make it 63-53 Simon Kenton. But the Pioneers finished off the game when Racke found senior wide receiver Timmy Cottrell for a 6-yard touchdown pass and Shearer scored from three yards out.

Highlands has the week off before starting Class 5A, District 5 action at Dixie Heights on Oct. 7. Game time is 7 p.m.

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