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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Highlands-Covington Catholic Preview

Bluebirds Focused More on Themselves Than Blue Colonels

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior wide receiver Braden Posey (1) makes a touchdown catch in the third quarter of the loss to Dixie Heights on Friday. Highlands plays Covington Catholic at 7 p.m. this Friday in Fort Thomas.
Yes, it may be "CovCath Week" for the Highlands Bluebirds football team.

People talk about things like whether it is a rivalry or not, the 15-game winning streak in the series for the Bluebirds or even the 49-17 all-time series lead in favor of the hosts of Friday's game at 7 p.m. at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. But this week is mostly about focusing on themselves.

The Bluebirds (1-6 overall, 0-1 in Class 5A, District 5 action) know they have much to fix if they want to break what is currently their longest losing streak since 1939, let along beating the blue Colonels (5-2, 1-0). The low point of the streak came in a 40-20 defeat at Dixie Heights on Friday that saw the 31-game district winning streak snapped and put the Bluebirds behind the eight ball in terms of playoff positioning.

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"If we don't focus on us, then there's no reason to focus on the other team," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We have to get better at what we're doing. That's what we saw from the film. We took several steps back from our game Friday. That's the hardest part about coming off the bye week. You get healthy. You feel better, but lose a little bit of that game stuff. We tried our best in practice to simulate games. But it's just not the same."

Over in Park Hills, the Colonels are headed in the opposite direction under second-year Head Coach Eddie Eviston having already equaled last year's win total. CovCath took down Grant County, 56-7 in Dry Ridge in its district opener.

The stats alone show some of the issues for the Blue and White. Highlands has scored 211 points and allowed 320 as opponents have outscored the Bluebirds by an average of about 46-30.

Highlands has rushed for 1,056 yards and passed for 1,676 averaging about 151 rushing and 239 passing per game, which is respectable. But it's not been enough in all but one game when teams have rushed for 2,046 yards and passed for 1,392 more for averages of about 292 and 199 per game.

"It's getting late in the season," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "Each practice has to be better than the practice before. You just have to keep building on each day and find a way to get teams off the field. We've had opportunities to get teams off the field and have give up big plays. You have to start making those plays because football is a game of momentum. If you get them off the field, that's a huge momentum shift. So far, we've not been able to do that."

Offensively, the Bluebirds will focus on blocking better and running routes more precise after those aspects of the game hurt Highlands in the loss to Dixie Heights. When given time, the Highlands skill position players have made plays. Senior quarterback Brady Gosney has completed 132-of-213 passes for 1,676 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions to 11 different receivers.

"Basically, we have to move our feet and block guys," said Michael Davidson, Highlands senior offensive lineman. "Last week, we had opportunities to block guys and we didn't block them. If we block them, that opens up the gaps for the skill players. It's basically what (the coaches) teach us. You have to take the right step and execute what we're doing."

Six different wide receivers have at least 10 catches for at least 100 yards. Junior Nick Veneman continues to lead the way with 33 receptions for 689 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior Braden Posey is next with 24 receptions for 261 yards and two scores and senior Trent Buchert has 20 catches for 185 yards.

"It was a little bit of everybody. It wasn't anybody pointing at one particular group," Weinrich said. "Sometimes, when a team is doing certain things and you feel frustrated, you press. It wasn't a negative thing. They were trying to do too much at times so you have to trust yourself and trust the other guy."

But the Highlands balance really shows in the Spread Offense when the running backs find holes. Senior Grant Murray has rushed for 506 yards on 102 carries and four touchdowns for an average of about five yards per carry and senior Jared Pulsfort has 395 yards on 79 attempts and eight touchdowns for an average of exactly five yards per carry.

The 3-4 Colonel defense has taken some lumps this year. The Colonels have outscored opponents, 241-198 for an average of about 34-28. They've rushed for 1,198 yards and passed for 1,605 averaging about 171 yards rushing and 229 passing a game. They've allowed 1,337 rushing yards and 1,299 passing yards for averages of 191 rushing and about 186 passing.

"They are explosive and they have very good athletes on their team," Eviston said. "So we have tomake sure we play disciplined football."

Senior linebacker Alex Shelton leads CovCath with 44 tackles and senior defensive back Anthony Best has 43 to go with an interception and fumble recovery. Junior linebacker Kameron Butler leads the Colonels with four interceptions for a total return of 110 yards and an interception and junior defensive back Adam Schneider has two fumble recoveries.

Defensively, Highlands hopes to play more physical than the game against Dixie Heights. The red Colonels rushed for an astounding 545 yards on Friday.

Junior AJ Mayer leads the CovCath spread offense. Mayer has completed 110-of-197 passes for 1,592 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions and has rushed for 177 yards on 59 carries and two touchdowns. Highlands expects the Colonels to run plays like sweeps that have hurt the Bluebirds defensively all season.

"(Mayer) makes good decisions. He does a good job of staying in the pocket when he needs to stay in the pocket," Jones said. "He's slippery enough to get out to buy time for his receivers and he puts it right on the money. When he's out in space, he can get the ball out."

The Colonels have seen 15 different players catch the ball. Sophomore Casey McGinness leads the team in rushing with 596 yards on 105 carries and six touchdowns for an average of about 5.7 yards per carry and has caught 14 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. Senior David Reisiger has a team-high 19 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns and senior Josh Newman has 18 receptions for 196 yards and three touchdowns.

"The offense has progressed since last year and AJ has vastly improved, but we need to make sure we remain as consistent as possible every week and look to improve each week," Eviston said. "It does not matter who our opponent is."

The Bluebirds do have 15 turnovers this season and hope. Senior linebacker Dalton Cornett has four fumble recoveries on the season with senior defensive back Kyle Rust recording two fumble recoveries and an interception. Senior linebacker Trey Bowden has two fumble recoveries with senior defensive back Sam Taylor recording a fumble recovery and interception.

"We need to trust our keys and do what we're coached to do to get ourselves in position to make plays," said Bradley Greene, Highlands senior defensive back. "Lining up right and playing fast are the most important things. (Mayer) has really talented wide receivers. We're going to have to be on top of our game to stop that for sure."

The regular season meeting has resulted in a prelude to the postseason the last five years in a battle between two teams with a combined 29 state championships. The Bluebirds have won all five postseason meetings on their way to the current Kentucky-best nine straight region championships.