|Bluebirds Hope to Bounce Back Against Raiders|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore Sawyer Depp (26) tries to get around Scott County's Cooper Robb (10) in Thursday's game.|
The Highlands Bluebirds and Ryle Raiders enter Friday's 7 p.m. game with similar results. Highlands handled Cooper (42-22) to open the season, escaped Campbell County (27-20) in overtime before suffering a huge 71-20 loss last Thursday. The visitors lost marginally at Covington Catholic (49-17) to open the season, clawed back to beat Lexington Henry Clay (34-28) in overtime before handling Boone County (48-0) at home last week. The Raiders have outscored opponents, 99-77 while opponents have outscored Highlands, 113-89.
The loss at Scott County marked the second time in two years a team has scored in the 70s against the Bluebirds. Simon Kenton did it in a 77-53 shoot-out win in Fort Thomas on Sept. 23 last year. The coaching staff hopes to make sure that loss does not linger this week.
"Whether you win or lose, you got to learn from the last game," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We preached and preached and preached you got to trust your keys. That's why Scott County's offense is as good as it is. They get you to doubt what you're doing with all of their smoke and mirrors. All it takes is one player to look the wrong way or go the wrong direction. We gave up two quick, easy touchdowns that we shouldn't have given up. You have to trust in what you're doing and not make those same mistakes hopefully."
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Highlands saw senior wide receiver Nick Veneman reach the end zone for the first time this year against Scott County. Veneman and senior wide receiver Jared Wogan have nine catches and one touchdown each for Highlands. Veneman's receiving yards total 137 and Wogan's total is just seven below that. Junior wide receiver Nate Roberts had a 19-yard touchdown reception against Scott County.
"(The offensive linemen) are just centimeters away from being awesome," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "The receivers are the same way. We're doing some really good things and we're just a couple players here and there from being awesome. So I think the more time we get with games on Fridays and we're playing some great competition every Friday as we get ready for our district and playoffs, the better we're going to get each week. We're really starting to click. We're starting to get more production in all facets of the game with everything we're trying to do."
Highlands junior Cooper Schwalbach leads the Bluebirds with 227 yards rushing on 56 carries and seven touchdowns for an average of just more than four yards per carry. But Schwalbach came out in the first half against Scott County and did not return. Senior running back Larry Wilson had a few carries against Cooper and senior running back Logan Aubrey has not played yet this season.
Injuries to those three could mean that sophomores Sawyer Depp and Wes Bowling could see a number of carries against Ryle. Depp has 17 carries for 69 yards on the season for an average of just more than four per carry.
"They are ready to contribute and I felt that on Thursday, they did contribute," Deaton said of Depp and Bowling. "Both those guys went into the game and did exactly what they were supposed to do and executed our offense well. This week, we're going to ask them to do even more. We have a lot of confidence in those guys."
Depp lost two fumbles in the loss at Scott County. The first one came inside the 10-yard-line with Highlands trailing just 21-7 and driving in for another score after junior Casey Greene recovered a fumble in the second quarter. But Depp is taking on the responsibility to correct that.
"It's just something you got to learn from," Depp said. "I'll come in this week. I'll practice holding onto the ball. It's just got to be perfect. I still have to run hard. That's just a goal of mine to keep getting better. The coaches are fantastic. They're what makes our team and brings us together."
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"We've been practicing with (the offensive linemen)," Bowling said. "I just them. There's nobody else I'd rather be running behind."
Ryle runs a 4-2 defense that allows averages of 113 rushing and about 132 passing. The Raiders are led by senior defensive back Justin Selby, senior defensive end Charles Golden, senior linebacker Spencer McKinney, junior linebacker Jackson Saladin and junior defensive back Dylan Green. Selby has an interception and two fumble recoveries and leads the Raiders with 31 tackles.
The shut-out win for Ryle marked the first one since Head Coach Mike Engler took over the program in 2014. Engler guided the Raiders to their first-ever undefeated regular season last year and the Class 6A, District 5 championship. Ryle won its first two playoff games last year but fell short, 42-40 at Scott County in the region championship.
Highlands hopes to bounce back after allowing 410 yards rushing at Scott County last week. The Bluebirds are allowing averages of 292 yards on the ground and just more than 97 yards passing. In particular, Scott County had a lot of success running sweeps on the perimeter in its traditional Wing-T attack.
"It's just the same thing we've been doing since January," said Nick Bowman, Highlands junior linebacker. "We just have to execute. It's just about reading our keys and seeing where (running backs) are going. That'll take us to the ball."
The Bluebird 3-5 defense will face a talented running back this week in Ryle senior Jake Chisholm. Chisholm has 541 yards rushing on 58 carries for an average of just more than nine yards per touch and eight touchdowns. Chisholm ran for 202 yards on 16 carries for an average of around 12.5 yards per carry and four touchdowns in Ryle's win over Boone County. Chisholm also leads the Raiders with nine receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns. The Ryle offensive line is led by senior Parker Bisek, a University of Toledo commit.
Chisholm had just three rushes for 43 yards against the Bluebirds last year, but he did burn Highlands for three catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in the 50-14 Ryle win in Union. Two years ago, Chisholm had seven carries for 53 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 15 yards in the 48-24 Raider win in Fort Thomas.
"(Chisholm) is really, really good," Weinrich said. "The reason he does so well is he strings you out and gets you to overcommit. He finds that first guy to cut back off of. You can watch any game Saturday, Sunday or Friday. A lot of those big runs is because a linebacker will turn their shoulders and go parallel with the line of scrimmage. You have to have an edge. You hear that all the time on television. You have to have that guy setting the edge and everyone else has to play inside-out and trust that guy. When we do that, we're in pretty good shape. All it's going to take is that one guy that's going to try to go over the top. (Chisholm) is going to find that guy. We watched film on him even from last year. He's the best cut-back running back I've seen. That's how he makes his living. Guys just have to be committed to staying patient and trust the guy in front of them."
Weinrich did not want to make excuses. But it did not help that linebackers Alex Starkey, Logan Sparks and Brycen Huddleston were unable to play against the Cardinals. That left more responsibility on players such as Crosley New and senior outside linebacker Griffin Huber, who is the only player to see action both ways also playing at wide receiver.
Turnovers have played a big role in the Highlands victories. They have nine on the season but have averaged four in the two wins compared to just one in the loss at Scott County. Highland senior defensive back Joe Steiden had a school-record four interceptions at Cooper with Harrison Traylor recording a pick-six. Junior defensive back Bailey Armstrong had a fumble recovery and pick-six against Campbell County and sophomore Mason Schwalbach also recovered a fumble against the Camels.
The Highlands defensive line came through in overtime against Campbell County containing the Camel rushing attack. Seniors Nick Biltz, Nathan Davis and junior Ben Sisson among others hope to help slow down Chisholm and Ryle sophomore running back Kyle England. England has 169 yards rushing on 17 carries and two touchdowns for an average of just below 10 yards per touch.
Ryle averages 253 yards per game rushing and 88 passing. Ryle has tried two quarterbacks this year in its transition from Tanner Morgan who is now at the University of Minnesota. Senior Easton Pilyer has completed 11-of-27 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns and junior Jake Smith has completed 10-of-19 passes for 107 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
The Bluebirds are seeking their first win over the Raiders since 2012. Highlands leads the all-time series, 11-4. Scott County beat Highlands three straight seasons becoming the first team to do that since Cincinnati Elder beat the Bluebirds three straight times between 2012 and 2014.