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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Highlands-Lexington Catholic Football Preview

Bluebirds Seek More Bright Moments in Homecoming Game

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Larry Wilson (21) tries to break a tackle while offensive linemen Michael Dunn (73), Keaton Huddleston (54) and Sam Sparks (56) try to make room in the game against Ryle.
It has been a mix of great moments and inconsistencies for these 2-2 football squads.

Both the host Highlands Bluebirds and Lexington Catholic Knights hope to see more of the first and less of the second in the non-region game Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium in their first meeting since 2014 at 7:30 p.m. It is the annual Homecoming game for the Blue and White.

Highlands started off the season with a convincing win over winless Cooper (42-22) before handing Campbell County its lone loss (27-20 in overtime) the next week. Since then, teams have piled up the yards against the injury-riddled Bluebirds in losses at Scott County (71-20) and last week at home against Ryle (47-29). Opponents have outscored Highlands, 162-116.

On the other side, LexCath opened the season with a 10-point (34-24) at Madison Central before Class 5A's top-ranked Covington Catholic Colonels came south and destroyed the Knights, 48-2. LexCath came back to shut out Lexington Lafayette, 25-0 the following week. But like what Ryle did to Highlands last week, the Lexington Christian Eagles did pretty much what they wanted running away for a 56-36 victory last week. Opponents have outscored the Knights, 128-97.

The rushing stats from last week's games could have the running backs on both sides aching to get on the field all week. The 3-1 Raiders rushed for 452 yards on 46 carries for just less than 10 yards per carry. Senior running back Jake Chisholm rushed for 265 yards on 26 carries and five touchdowns for an average of just more than 10 per touch and senior quarterback Easton Pilyer had 139 yards on nine carries for an average of just more than 15 per carry.

Down to the south, the 4-0 Eagles garnered 408 yards rushing on 49 carries for an average of just more than three yards per touch. Senior quarterback Logan Nieves rushed for 179 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns averaging just less than 10 yards per touch and senior running back Dillon Wheatley had 154 yards rushing on 28 carries and two touchdowns for an average of 5.5 per carry.

Highlands has struggled to run the ball consistently out of its Spread offense since junior Cooper Schwalbach rushed for 150 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries in the season-opening win. The Bluebirds have averaged just above 70 yards per game in the last three games. Overall, Highlands averages 92.5 yards per game rushing and just more than 218 passing.

The coaching staff does not like to use injuries as an excuse. But Highlands has seen some injuries to the running backs. Schwalbach did not play against Ryle, but senior Larry Wilson returned for the first time since the Cooper game. Schwalbach still leads the Bluebirds with 227 yards rushing on 56 carries and seven touchdowns for an average of just more than four per game.

"I think (it's about) focusing on fundamentals with our offensive line and our running backs and doing things just a little bit better," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "On Friday, we were a little bit away from having some great runs so if we focus on our fundamentals and our technique, we should be fine."

The Bluebird passing game has continued to improve as the offensive line has given senior quarterback Carl Schoellman time to make good throws. Schoellman has completed 78-of-122 passes for 873 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

Schoellman's top two targets have been seniors Nick Veneman and Jared Wogan. Venman has 23 catches for 292 yards and three touchdowns with Wogan hauling in 18 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Thirteen different Bluebirds have at least one catch this year.

"We're starting to get our stuff together," Veneman said. "For the receivers, Carl is starting to make the passes that we need to and I think we'll be alright. We're just trying to push everyone to listen to (Highlands Head) Coach (Brian) Weinrich, do their jobs and do their best. People have been throw into positions they didn't think they were going to play. Once everyone gets healthy, we're going to start getting into the groove."

LexCath plays a 3-4 defense and has allowed averages of 256 yards rushing and 119.5 yards passing per game. The Knights put seven players near the line of scrimmage but still could not contain the Lexington Christian rushing attack. CovCath piled up 271 yards against the Knights led by junior Casey McGinness with 19 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns for an average of nearly 8.5 per carry.

"Highlands is a good football team that we will have to have a great week of preparation and then play our best game on Friday night," said Mark Perry, LexCath Head Coach. "It's always a great atmosphere in Fort Thomas and should be a good football game on Friday night."

LexCath has just three fumble recoveries and one interception on the year. The Knights have seven players with at least 11 tackles. Senior linebacker Kevin Brown leads the way with 31.

The Highlands 3-5 defense has allowed averages of just more than 331 yards rushing and 102.5 passing. The Bluebirds hope to see several linebackers who could not play against Ryle back this week.

"It doesn't matter what scheme you're running when you're thin at any position whether it's offense or defense," Weinrich said. "You're going to have to try to make the adjustments whether it's personnel or schematically, whatever the case. Unfortunately, it feels like injuries have his specific position groups harder than other position groups. It's really putting us into a bind with what we're trying to do particularly with spending so much time all spring and summer practicing a certain way then suddenly, you have to change something. You don't ever forsee something like what we've been going through lately."

As a team, Highlands has picked off eight passes and recovered three fumbles on the year. Senior defensive back Joe Steiden has a team-high four interceptions and junior defensive back Bailey Armstrong has two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

The LexCath offense averages about 133 rushing and about 231 passing running mostly the Spread formation and some under center in the I-formation with senior Dylan Coulter at fullback. Senior running back Dameon Jones leads the Knights with 316 yards rushing on 55 carries and a touchdown averaging just under six yards per carry and junior Keith Brinkman is second with 226 yards on 38 carries and two touchdowns averaging just under six yards per touch. Coulter has 112 yards rushing on 21 carries and three touchdowns for an average of just more than five yards per touch.

"Every play, they're a big-play potential kind of team," Weinrich said. "They have a lot of skilled athletes. They spread you out, try to find a match-up they like and they get the ball to those guys in a hurry."

Sophomore Beau Allen is the quarterback. Teams have sacked him some this year. Allen has a negative-95 yards rushing on 13 carries. He has completed 60-of-105 passes for 759 yards including 356 against Lexington Christian. He has eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Junior Nathan Schnurr leads the Knights with 18 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Senior 6-foot-7-inch senior Jacob Ballard anchors the LexCath offensive line.e

"It's going to be a different game plan this week because they're going to throw the ball a whole lot more than Ryle did," said Jack Delagrange, Highlands junior linebacker. "We're probably going to compensate for that getting ready for the passing game. But they also got a couple running backs that are studs. They'll probably throw screen passes and run the ball. We just have to be ready for everything really. I have a lot of faith in our defensive line."

Highlands has lost to LexCath just once in eight meetings. That came 17-0 in the 2005 Class 3A Region championship game in Fort Thomas. The Bluebirds eliminated the Knights in the Class 4A state semi-finals every year between 2011 and 2014 on their way to three state championships and a runner-up finish in 4A.

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