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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bluebirds Focus on Little Things During Bye Week

Highlands Owns Better Record Entering Bye Week Than Previous Two Years

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Grant Summers (8) makes a catch during the game against Simon Kenton.
The grass is not always greener on the other side in life. But for football teams, the grass is definitely greener in the opposing end zone.

Throughout its great history, the Highlands Bluebirds football team has done a great job discovering that and preventing teams from doing for the most part and the Bluebirds hope to improve at both during the bye week. That's why the team's overall record is 881-247-26 in 103 seasons of football with just nine losing seasons.

The Bluebirds sit 2-4 this year entering the bye week. It is an improvement from 1-5 at this point the previous two years.

It is still well below the team's high standards. But what is frustrating for anyone associated with the team is the win and loss totals could have been reversed for one simple reason. Highlands stood in position to beat Lexington Catholic and Simon Kenton late in both games, but could not make plays down the stretch to hold on for victory.

The Bluebirds led 18-7 in the fourth quarter at home against Lexington Catholic. But the Knights scored touchdowns on their final two possessions to win 21-18.

Then last week, Highlands led undefeated Simon Kenton, 30-21 with 2:36 left after junior Nick Bowman booted a 30-yard field goal. But the Pioneers scored with 1:28 left in the game then recovered the onside kick. They scored the game-winner with 14 seconds left to win 35-30.

"We had our hands team out there. We were ready for the onside kick," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "We had two different people able to make that play and we didn't make that play. (The Pioneers) made that play at that crucial moment. We have to start being able to do that. When we do that, it's kind of when we're going to be really successful."

Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich said the Bluebirds work on special teams plays like that all the time in practice. But he said there is a big difference between practicing those plays and executing them in a game.

"You can't ever practice it live with the pressure of the game on the line," Weinrich said. "It's just like in basketball shooting free throws with one second left. There's no way to duplicate that in practice no matter how hard you try. You can just learn from those experiences and get better."

The Bluebirds hope the bye week helps the way it did two years ago. Highlands came out of the bye week and won seven straight on their way to another district and region championship. The Bluebirds finished 8-6 in 2015 losing 41-31 to Pulaski County in the Class 5A state semi-finals.

But it turned out to be a different struggle last year. Highlands saw its five-game losing streak at this point last year extend to seven - one short of the school record - before the regular season ended with two wins. Highlands lost 52-32 at Louisville Doss to conclude a 3-8 season marking its first losing season since going 4-5-1 in 1955 and ending a run of 60 consecutive winning seasons.

"It's always like that. It's the little things so we're just trying to use the bye week to get healed physically and mentally - just kind of to recharge the batteries and get better as individuals," Weinrich said. "We'll work on game plan stuff, but not much. If they have more confidence in what they're doing, hopefully they'll start to trust each other even more."

Highlands has been outscored, 218-164 for an average of about 36-27. The Bluebirds have allowed 1809 rushing and 800 passing on the season for averages of 301.5 and just more than 133 per game respectively.

The Bluebirds implemented a 3-5 defense in the spring and some things have started to come together. They have 10 interceptions and six fumble recoveries on the season including three pick-sixes by senior defensive back Harrison Traylor, junior defensive back Bailey Armstrong and junior defensive lineman Ben Sisson. Highlands had 17 fumble recoveries and just three interceptions all last season with just one returned for a touchdown.

Senior Joe Steiden still leads Highlands with four interceptions in his record-setting performance in the 42-22 season-opening win at Cooper. Armstrong has two interceptions and two fumble recoveries with junior linebacker Alex Starkey recording two fumble recoveries. Injuries hurt the Bluebirds at linebacker in the losses against Scott County and Ryle.

"We watched the film Saturday and it's the same thing," Weinrich said. "There's not a lot of difference in film week to week. It's just a few more guys making plays and the outcome is completely different. It just comes from playing with confidence and trusting each other."

Highlands junior linebacker Jackson Hagedorn learned a lesson on trusting keys in the loss at Simon Kenton. Highlands assistant Nick Behymer told Hagedorn to do that after the Pioneers had a nice run. Hagedorn made a nice tackle on the next play.

"It's pretty vital to come downhill because if the coaches put you in the game, they expect you to make plays like that. Everyone has to play their parts and their positions," Hagedorn said. "Everybody relies on each other. I think our coaches are some of the best because they tell me things I didn't even think about doing."

Highlands has put up 663 yards rushing and 1,318 passing on the season for averages of 110.5 and just under 220 per game. Highlands quarterback Carl Schoellman has completed 115-of-177 passes for those 1,318 yards for 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Senior Nick Veneman has been the top target with 29 catches for 377 yards and four touchdowns and senior Jared Wogan is second with 26 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns.

Highlands did score on its second possession against Simon Kenton. The Bluebirds also booted three field goals. Senior running back Larry Wilson also had his career-best game rushing for 171 yards on 18 carries for an average of 9.5 per touch. Highlands hopes to finish drives better in the upcoming games, especially in the Red Zone.

"We still had some negative plays that hurt us," Deaton said. "We had a high snap. We had a holding penalty on a touchdown. But it was really nice to be able to run the ball pretty well. We got better at that and I think we're only going to get better at that."

No Highlands rusher had gone above 100 yards in a game since junior Cooper Schwalbach rushed for 150 yards on 29 carries and four touchdowns for an average of just more than five yards per carry. The two have not played together in the same game since the beginning of the Cooper game.

"I've seen moments where we've been a great football team," Wilson said. "Cooper and I have not really played a full game together. But once we're both out there together, we'll be really good. It can be really good with one of us blocking and one running behind."

Highlands takes on Dixie Heights to start Class 5A, District 5 action on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. Highlands will watch the Colonels take on Cooper on Friday.

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