Friday, August 25, 2017
Highlands-Campbell County Gamer
It described the battle the Highlands Bluebirds football team found itself in at David Cecil Memorial Stadium on Friday against the determined Campbell County Camels. The Camels kept giving the Bluebirds their best shots. But the Bluebirds bounced back up and overcame them in a 27-20 overtime victory.
Highlands finds itself 2-0 for the first time since 2014 while Campbell County drops to 1-1. The Bluebirds started the last two years 1-1.
The last verse of the song says, "A Brave New World." The Bluebirds might as well be called "A Brave New Team" after how long they've come from this point a year ago. The Camels knocked off the Bluebirds, 24-21 last year when Nic Mayer hit a 30-yard field goal as time expired for the first win in the series for Campbell County since 1991. That loss sent the Bluebirds into a tailspin in the form of a seven-game skid - just one shy of the school record for consecutive losses.
But this year's Highlands team finds itself one win away from equaling last year's total of 3-8 overall. It started with a bend but don't break defense.
Campbell County has run a pound-and-ground offense out of the shotgun for years and showed how effective it can be. The Camels put up 360 yards of total offense on 71 plays for an average of just more than five yards per play compared to 204 yards on 51 plays for an average of an even four yards per carry for the Bluebirds.
The Camels rushed for 239 yards and passed for 121. Senior running back Alex Dowds led the way going for 166 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns for an average of just more than seven per carry with junior Grant Jolly going for 48 yards on 13 carries.
The Camels have not hesitated to call quarterback runs up the middle and outside in the past. Quarterback Austin Hoeh finished with 20 yards on seven carries including an 11-yard scamper. But he did more through the air completing 16-of-24 passes. Hoeh mostly threw out routes to the left away from Highlands senior defensive back Joe Steiden after Steiden picked off four passes against Cooper last week. Senior Jack Comer led the Camels with eight catches for 56 yards and Reid Jolly had six for 47.
"They've got a good offense," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "They have good guys so you can't really focus on one because as soon as you come in, (Hoeh) has an arm and he's getting the ball to his receivers and just getting those five and 10-yard gains. We keep telling the guys not to get frustrated. We'll take those five yards because we're going to make a play sooner or later. We knew if we stayed patient, we'd give ourselves a chance in the end."
But Highlands made the Camels drive down the field and capitalized on some mistakes. Junior Bailey Armstrong recovered a fumble and tied the game at 20-20 with 4:41 remaining picking off a Hoeh pass and returning it 55 yards for a touchdown on an out route. Campbell County blocked the ensuing point-after touchdown kick.
"The whole play was just amazing," Armstrong said. "They kept throwing it and throwing it. Eventually, I had to do something about it. It was a team effort. Without the other 10 guys on the field on defense playing hard every single play, I wouldn't have been able to do that. If they're not doing their part, there's no way that play comes together."
That makes six interceptions on the year for the Bluebirds. They had just three all last season.
Highlands moved to a plus-four in the takeaway-giveaway department. Sophomore Mason Schwalbach recovered a fumble at the Highlands 14 with 46 seconds left in the first quarter to end another long Camel drive.
"It was key. It's all the players doing their job," Schwalbach said. "It's everyone flying around making plays. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. We have to learn how to come downhill harder (and) push them back. Don't let them get the extra yards moving forward."
The only Bluebird turnover came in the third quarter when junior defensive back Logan Harrod picked off a Highlands pass. The Bluebirds had three turnovers in the 42-22 win at Cooper a week ago.
The 3-3 Stack experienced Camel defense focused on stopping Highlands running back Cooper Schwalbach after he tore up Cooper for 150 yards rushing and four touchdowns to open the season. Cooper Schwalbach had just 29 yards on 18 carries, but still finished with two scores.
That meant Highlands had to go to the air and senior quarterback Carl Schoellman guided the Bluebirds down the field several times to create scoring opportunities. Schoellman completed 20-of-26 passes for 174 yards. Highlands had some success with the short to medium routes.
"Like we said earlier in the week, Campbell County is very aggressive," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "They have some guys that have been there for a while and they are confident in what they're doing. They were doing a great job of flying to the football and covering a lot of space. We knew if we got the ball into (the Highlands wide receivers') hands, that we could have some success and give ourselves a shot. Our offensive line was doing a great job in pass protection. We felt like that area of the field was our best chance to try to win the game and that's what we went with."
Senior Griffin Huber led the way with six catches for 56 yards and Nick Veneman had four receptions for 23 yards with Jared Wogan catching three passes for 36 yards. Grady Cramer, Schwalbach and junior Austin King had two catches each. Wogan said the Bluebird spread offense hopes to keep growing from day to day.
"I think Carl's the smartest quarterback in the area. I trust these guys," Wogan said. "We need to start getting open more and start taking more chances. Once we do it, I know we have the receivers to make it happen and we're going to get in the end zone easier."
Campbell County built a 14-0 lead starting in the first quarter when it took the opening kickoff to its own 30 and worked the ball down the field. The Camels took seven minutes and 34 seconds off the clock before Hoeh scored from two yards out with 4:26 left in the first quarter.
The Camels converted a key fourth down on the drive. The converted 3-of-4 fourth-down tries for 75 percent and 6-of-13 on third down for 46 percent. Highlands converted 7-of-14 on third down for 50 percent and its lone fourth down try.
Campbell County scored its second touchdown with 5:30 left in the second quarter. Another long drive finished when Dowds scored from three yards out and senior Luke Oehrle made his second of three PATs.
But the Bluebirds came out determined to remove the goose egg from their side of the scoreboard on the next drive. They moved to the 3-yard line and Schoellman rolled to his left before cutting back to the middle and diving into the end zone for a score. Nick Bowman hit his first of three PATs on four attempts to cut the deficit to 14-7 Camels with 1:54 left in the first half.
The Bluebirds then tied the game at 14-all in the third quarter. Cooper Schwalbach punched it in from a yard out.
The Camels took their final lead just eight seconds into the fourth quarter. Dowds took a sweep right, turned the corner down the right sideline and scored on a 36-yard play. But the PAT missed left leaving the score 20-14 Campbell County.
After Highlands drove into Camel territory and did not score, the Camels looked to potentially put the game away. But a holding call put Campbell County in a 3rd-and-long situation and Armstrong took advantage of it.
The Bluebirds received the ball to start the overtime and each team earns a possession starting at the 10 per Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules. After an incomplete pass, Schoellman found Veneman down to the Camel 3. That's when Schwalbach came up huge. Cooper Schwalbach took the ball up the middle, let the offensive line seal off the left side and bounced to his left to score the game-winning touchdown. Bowman's PAT gave the Bluebirds a 27-20 advantage.
"It's what we worked for all summer and all winter," said Michael Dunn, Highlands senior offensive lineman crediting the Highlands off-season workouts for paying off in situations like that. "It just goes to show that what our coaches do for us is incredible. It all matters at the end. That's why I think they're the best coaches in the country no matter what people say. They're amazing."
Then the Highlands defense stood tall. Campbell County ran Dowds to the right, but Highlands defensive linemen Ben Sisson and Nate Davis stopped him for a minimal gain. The Camels then ran Grant Jolly on a trap play to the left, but Nick Biltz brought him down quickly setting up a long 3rd-and-goal situation. Undaunted, the Camels tried a sweep right with Grant Jolly but Harrison Traylor stopped him at the Camel 9 bringing up 4th-and-goal.
"It's just trusting what they do," Weinrich said. "That was a play that they'd had success on early in the game. On the sidelines, we said we couldn't wait until Monday to get better. We had to get better now and we got better. That was their go-to play in the end. We stopped it when we had to."
Hoeh tried a quick throw to the back of the end zone to the right of the goal post and drew a pass interference moving the ball in between the four and 5-yard-line. Hoeh then rolled left and Highlands senior linebacker Crosley New put pressure on him. His desperate throw into the end zone fell short of his teammate ending the game.
Highlands faces a huge test on the road next week at 2-0 Scott County. Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Georgetown.
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