|Bluebird Struggles Against Class 6As Best Continue in Road Loss|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior wide receiver Dougie Buckler (85) makes a catch in Friday's game at Louisville St. Xavier.|
The Class 6A, District 3 Louisville St. Xavier Tigers (3-1 overall) football team used a similar strategy to what the Ryle Raiders did last week to beat the Highlands Bluebirds (1-4) in non-district action, 45-18 Friday. The Tigers spread the ball around offensively taking advantage of their size on the offensive line and the defense limited the Bluebird running game in addition to taking advantage of turnovers.
"(St. Xavier) is a good team. We emphasized all week cleaning up our mistakes," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "It's a little thing here and a little thing there. We just have to fix them. (On Friday), we didn't. When you play a team like that, they're going to continue to find the weaknesses and make you not execute."
The Tigers came out running the ball with senior running back Sam Taylor in between and off the tackles mixed in with the vaunted jet sweeps. St. Xavier quarterback Desmond Ridder also threw quick out passes to the wide receivers taking advantage of the Highlands defensive backs playing about 10 yards off the ball in their 3-4 defense to keep the Bluebirds off-balanced defensively.
"(Taylor) is a very physical kid. He plays football correctly," said Will Wolford, St. Xavier Head coach. "He is all heart, mind and guts. When you time him in the 40 (-yard dash), it's not that great. But when you give him the ball and have guys chasing him, he runs very hard. Sometimes I wish he would avoid contact because he looks for it. But he's one of many kids on our team with a ton of heart."
Running behind offensive linemen like junior Wyatt Smock (6-foot-4-inches, 282 pounds), the Tigers gained 301 yards on 42 carries for an average of just more than seven per carry. Taylor finished with 120 yards on 15 attempts with one touchdown for an average of eight yards per touch.
Ten different Tigers had carries in the game. Highlands won the second half, 18-7 as reserves on both sides saw extensive playing time. The Tigers enforced the running clock with 57.2 seconds left in the game when Ridder hit senior wide receiver Blake Roshkowski for a 10-yard touchdown pass and Owen Johnson hit the last of five extra-point attempts.
Both teams ran 66 plays. The Tigers had 355 yards of total offense to 323 for the Bluebirds. Highlands converted just 3-of-10 on third down for 30 percent and St. Xavier converted on 2-of-8 for 25 percent and both fourth-down tries.
"We have quite a bit of depth," Wolford said. "We've played two deep on both sides of the ball in most games. We want to continue to do that and keep our guys fresh. Its our philosophy. We try to go fast on offense and try to wear you down. We try to keep you uncomfortable."
On the offensive line, Highlands saw senior Kyle Finfrock return, but senior Mitch Schry sat out recovering from a concussion and junior center Sam Sparks is still out nursing a broken hand. Schry said he hopes to be back Friday. Also for the Bluebirds, senior linebacker Trey Bowden did not play because of a bruised upper right leg injury and senior Cameron Hayes did not play because of a midsection injury. Both hope to be back soon.
The Tigers showed some vulnerability defensively against the pass in their first three game and the Bluebirds tried to attack it. They came out throwing short to medium-range passes before going up top. Highlands quarterback Brady Gosney completed 24-of-38 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns and an interception to eight different receivers. Senior Trent Buchert and junior Nick Veneman led the way with five catches each for 64 and 60 yards respectively.
Despite the struggles, Highlands showed some signs of good things to come defensively. Late in the second quarter, junior defensive lineman Keaton Huddleston and senior Connor Myers combined to sack Ridder on third down to force a punt. Junior Crosley New also had a sack in the second half.
"I think we're going to be able to take some steps forward from the sack we had," Huddleston said. "It should motivate (myself, Myers) and the rest of the team to do more in the backfield. It's pretty tough (to do against the St. X offensive line). They hit hard and they hit low."
Highlands also stopped St. Xavier on its first drive with a turnover. Senior defensive back Sam Taylor recovered a Tiger fumble at the Bluebird 25.
"To be honest with you, guys are playing hard," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "We have a long way to go. We have to stop making the same mistakes. We just have get better."
But after the Highlands offense could not move the ball, the Tigers began to move the ball with precision. The first score came when junior running back Will Ginter scooted around the right side for a 23-yard touchdown run with 9:08 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers led 21-0 after one quarter scoring on their next two drives. Junior wide receiver Ben Seger hauled in a 17-yard pass from Ridder with 5:47 left in the quarter and Roshkowski took a jet sweep 45 yards for a touchdown with 3:58 left in the quarter.
Highlands made three first downs on its next drive starting to move the ball. But the drive ended when junior defensive back Jake Netherton intercepted Gosney. The Tigers drove the ball into Highlands territory but settled for a Johnson 28-yard field goal with 10:01 left in the half.
The Tigers did score, however, on their next drive. Taylor scored from five yards out to put St. Xavier up 31-0 with 6:31 left in the half.
Highlands moved deep into St. X territory, but turned the ball over again. Gosney scrambled left and started his passing motion. But the Tiger defender hit his arm and the ball came out before Gosney's right arm followed through and senior linebacker Chandler Simpson returned it into Highlands territory. The Tigers finished the drive with Roshkowski's second touchdown.
The Bluebirds finally dented the scoreboard just 2:39 into the second half. Veneman burned St. Xavier over the top the way he did Scott County for a 31-yard touchdown pass. But the extra-point kick failed to make it 38-6 Tigers. St. Xavier responded with a score with 3:32 left in the half when back-up quarterback Jack Albers scrambled left for an 18-yard touchdown run making the score 45-6 in favor of St. Xavier.
Highlands made it a little more respectable with 1:01 left in the quarter. Gosney hit junior Jared Wogan for a 16-yard touchdown pass. But St. X intercepted the two-point conversion pass leaving the score 45-12 Tigers.
The only score of the fourth quarter came with 3:21 left in the game. Gosney found senior Evan Fickenscher for a 1-yard score.
The end of the gauntlet through some of Class 6A's best ends Friday against undefeated Simon Kenton (5-0). Game time is 7 p.m.