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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Filling a Football Schedule Opening

Highlands finds Class 5A opponent to fulfill schedule

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands wide receiver Jared Wogan makes his move in the playoff game at Louisville Doss last season. Highlands found a 10th opponent for 2017 and 2018 in the Greenwood Gators.
Highlands Director of Athletics Matt Haskamp said the football team's search for a 10th game had its stressful moments.

The search began in the Tri-State area then expanded into the rest of Kentucky, Ohio even into Detroit and West Virginia. But the closest any team had openings in Weeks 6 (Sept. 29) or 9 (Oct. 20) next year in Ohio was Sandusky located in Northern Ohio by Lake Erie.

The Bluebirds found themselves in this boat along with Class 5A, District 5 rivals Dixie Heights and Covington Catholic when Kentucky High School Athletic Association granted Grant County's request to drop out of district play for the next two years. But luckily, the Highlands found that 10th opponent when the Greenwood Gators found themselves in the same situation. The Bluebirds head down to Bowling Green for Week 9. They will travel down and return that day.

"I like road trips because it gives you a chance to get away, gives you a chance to focus and gives you a chance to be together," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "You have nothing to do but think about the game, think about what you're doing as a group, to talk to each other. In home games at down time, it's almost like you're trying to find things to fill time. But on road games, it's a good chance to relax and think about what you need to get better at and just have a lot of conversations with guys. A lot of good things happen on road trips."

Greenwood finished 9-3 last year losing 28-17 at Owensboro in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. Greenwood is in Class 5A, District 2 with Barren County, Grayson County and state power Bowling Green. Located just outside Bowling Green on Scottsville Road going east off Interstate 65 Exit 22, Greenwood is one of four high schools in the Warren County School System with Warren Central, Warren East and South Warren.

"Finding a game in Week 9 is virtually impossible because everybody's in district play in Week 9 or Week 6 that was the other week available," Haskamp said. "You get a little nervous as time goes on. It's a school a similar size and a school that's had some success. It may be a school we face down the line if they get far enough in the playoffs and we get lucky enough to get far enough in the playoffs. We did the best we could with a tough situation."

Aside from finding that 10th game against an in-state opponent, Haskamp and Weinrich like the fact the game is in Bowling Green. The KHSAA state football championships have been played in Bowling Green at Western Kentucky University since 2009. In addition, the Region 2 winner travels to the Region 1 winner this year in the state semifinals making it possible for three separate trips to that part of the Commonwealth should Highlands make it back to the state title game for the first time since 2014.

Since the Bluebirds won their last state championship in Class 5A in 2010, the Bowling Green Purples have won Region 1 five of the past six years. The lone exception came in 2014 when Graves County beat Bowling Green, 7-0 in the region championship on its way to the state championship where it finished runner-up to to Pulaski County.

"Being able to go there toward the end of the season and experience what that drive is like and the preparation for that trip I think is something that's going to be extremely valuable to our guys," Haskamp said. "It won't be the first time they got on a charter bus for three and a half hours. It's not ideal to go that far (for the regular season), but I think there are some positives out of it."

Teams try to balance the schedule with five home games and five road games during the regular season. But Highlands will play four games at David Cecil Memorial Stadium and six on the road next year and vise versa in 2018 when Greenwood comes to Fort Thomas.

"You prepare for it just like any other game," said Harrison Traylor, Highlands defensive back. "You just have to go down there and do the same things we've worked on in practice. You can't let it get into your head or it'll affect your game plan."

Highlands did a home-and-home series against Warren Central in 2013 and 2014 winning the 2013 game, 71-69 in Fort Thomas before handling the Dragons, 43-0 to end the 2014 campaign in Bowling Green. The Bluebirds ventured several hours to John Hardin before going six hours to Paducah Tilghman in 2013.

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