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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Highlands-Boone County Football Preview

Bluebirds seek more momentum going into playoffs

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior defensive back Ben Grothaus reacts to a play against Grant County on Friday. The Bluebirds play host to the Boone County Rebels at 7 p.m. Friday to finish the regular season.
Both football teams come into the non-district contest Friday fresh off huge district wins.

The next goal for both teams is to build on that momentum and carry it into the playoffs. The Highlands Bluebirds (2-7 overall) took down the 3-6 Grant County Braves, 50-0 for their most complete game of the season in Class 5A, District 5 action and the Rebels (1-8) snapped a 28-game losing streak with a 20-14 overtime win over the visiting 3-6 Campbell County Camels in Class 6A, District 6 action. The teams finish the regular season at David Cecil Memorial Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m.

"That's what's been so great about this group," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "They show up every Monday ready to go. Whatever happened last weekend doesn't matter either way. It seems like week after week, we're finding different ways to move the ball. We have to continue to do that."

On the other hand, Boone County put a victory on the board for the first time in the head coaching tenure of Marty Steele. The Rebels found themselves trailing by just seven points or less at halftime in losses to Lexington Catholic, Lexington Lafayette, South Oldham and Ryle before falling apart in the second half.

"It was huge getting that monkey off our back," Steele said. "Not responding to that adversity has been a struggle for two years. It comes from the 'here we go again' mentality that losing teams have. We did a good job of responding to that a few times over the course of the year and we did it for an entire half against Campbell. Hopefully, that bodes well for the remainder of the season."

The Highlands defense received a huge confidence boost in the win at Grant County. The Bluebirds held the Braves to 68 total yards on 49 plays for an average of 1.4 yards per play.

That brought the season averages down significantly. Opponents have still outscored them, 383-287 on the season for an average score of 43-32. Teams have rushed for 2,616 yards and passed for 1,480 for averages of about 291 rushing and 164 passing per game.

"We're trying to play as fast as we can and hard as we can doing what we've always tried to do," said Trent Webster, Highlands senior linebacker. "We just keep our gaps, fly around and blow everything up. We want to keep everything inside pushing (the play) back to where everyone else is. I felt like we wanted it more. We were tired of losing."

The Bluebirds made some key changes defensively and it showed as they constantly disrupted plays in the Grant County backfield in their 3-4 defense. Highlands took several offensive linemen and put them in the defensive line rotation in senior Mitch Schry, junior Michael Dunn and sophomore Trent Johnson. Johnson and Dunn played both ways while Schry just played on defense. Sophomore Cooper Schwalbach also joined the rotation at linebacker. Grant County could not run the ball up the middle or outside.

"We're just trying to practice as hard as we can," Schry said. "I feel like day after day, we'll progress knocking the crap out of ourselves and just building upon ourselves the most that we can. That's how we're going to improve."

The Bluebirds forced two turnovers thanks to that pressure. On the first of senior Dalton Cornett's two fumble recoveries, Dunn tackled Brave senior running back Austin Smith hard and the ball came out at the Grant County 17 setting up a Bluebird touchdown in the first quarter.

Cornett and Dunn then put pressure on Grant County quarterback Tanner Souder late in the first half and the ball came out. Cornett returned his team-high sixth fumble to the Grant County 8. That set up a Grant Murray 8-yard touchdown run up the middle.

"You're always evaluating," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "You want to put yourself in the best position to make plays. That's kind of where all that is."

The Rebels ran out of the Power-I and I-Wing sets last year. But Boone County mostly runs a lot of one-back sets now trying to spread the ball around. The 20 points against Campbell County marked the team-high on the season as teams have outscored Boone County, 324-104 for an average of about 36-12 on average.

"It's no secret we have struggled offensively this year not necessarily moving the ball, but scoring," Steele said. "We seem to be our own worst enemy in that regard. Hopefully, we can be better at eliminating the mistakes that prevent us from scoring. We will do what we do with a few wrinkles here and there."

Boone County has rushed for 1,432 yards and passed for 913 averaging about 159 rushing and 101 passing per game. Senior Corstin Cahill leads Boone County with 480 yards rushing on 96 carries and four touchdowns for an average of five yards per carry. Senior KaDon Harvin is second with 426 yards on 74 carries and three touchdowns for an average of about 5.8 yards per touch.

Senior Alex Schwartz has settled in as quarterback of the Rebels. Schwartz has completed 30-of-80 passes for 589 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Senior Rondell Douglas leads Boone County with 19 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

"They'll run more twins and trips than they have in the past," Jones said. "(Schwartz) has a good arm so he can get the ball out. They're taking advantage of that. Their running backs run hard. (Harvin) is a big kid. They try a bunch of different ways to get him the ball, get him in space and let him make plays."

The Highlands offensive line blocked well enough to allow the Bluebirds to make four touchdown passes of 20 or more yards in their vaunted spread attack. Highlands has rushed for 1,269 yards on the season and passed for 2,190 for averages of 141 rushing and about 243 passing per game.

Highlands senior quarterback Brady Gosney surpassed the 2,000-yard mark passing against Grant County. Out of the Spread offense, Gosney completed 172-of-282 passes for 2,179 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Thirteen different Bluebirds have catches on the season. Junior Nick Veneman leads the way with 37 receptions for 735 yards and 10 touchdowns with junior Braden Posey recording 36 receptions for 379 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Trent Buchert is next with 22 catches for 228 yards and two scores and junior Griffin Huber has 19 receptions for 201 yards. Junior Jared Wogan is tied for second with Posey with four touchdowns on 14 catches for 168 yards.

Highlands didn't have to run the ball with the success passing it against Grant County. The Bluebird depth there took a hit with senior Jared Pulsfort out for the season with a torn right Anterior Cruciated Ligament against CovCath. Murray still leads the Bluebirds with 667 yards rushing on 128 carries and six touchdowns for an average of about 5.21 yards per carry.

Teams have rushed for 1,678 yards against Boone County and passed for 1,594 for averages of about 187 rushing and 177 passing. Sophomore John Mark Shutt leads the Rebels with 78 tackles. Boone County has intercepted just two passes this year and recovered five fumbles. Senior defensive back Peyton Shoemaker leads Boone County with two fumble recoveries.

The Rebels play a 4-3 base defense. They held the Bluebirds to just 102 yards rushing in the meeting in Florence last year. But Highlands managed some big plays in the passing game to pull away for a 32-6 win after leading just 14-6 at halftime.

"(Boone) is just really sound," Weinrich said. "They don't make any mistakes. They're very physical. They look like they have complete confidence with what they're doing. With that confidence and size, they're flying around making plays. It's difficult to get things on them."

The last time Boone County came to Fort Thomas was 2009 when Austin Collinsworth was a senior. The Bluebirds beat the Rebels, 36-14 on their way to an undefeated Class 5A state championship. The Rebels will have to deal with the unique atmosphere of Cecil Memorial Stadium.

"We'll try to prepare our kids the best we can," Steele said. "The tight sidelines are more annoying than anything else - just the idea of trying to coach a game and there is someone with nachos walking by you."

This will mark the 39th meeting between the Bluebirds and Rebels. The Rebels last beat the Bluebirds, 14-8 in 1979.


  1. It sounds like we have been hearing the same thing all year. I think things need too be looked at real hard after the season.

  2. Hard look at what?