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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Highlands-Boone County Football Preview

Bluebirds Hoping to Even Record at Boone County

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands junior wide receiver Austin King looks to give the ball back to the ref after making a play against Greenwood on Friday.
In terms of outcome goals, the Highlands Bluebirds football team (4-5) heads to Florence to face the Boone County Rebels (1-8) on Friday aiming to finish the regular season at an even 5-5.

But to do that, the focus on performance goals in practice all week and leading into the game Friday at 7 p.m. has to be as good as ever. The last thing anyone wants to believe is the non-district game against the Rebels will be a cakewalk even though Boone County has struggled these last six seasons. The Rebels have gone 4-60 since going 9-5 and winning a region championship in 2011.

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"It's hard to find positives in a season like this," said Marty Steele, Boone County Head Coach. "One positive is that we have very few seniors playing in key positions. Due to injuries and guys not quite being what we expected, we have had to amp up the development of our younger guys. Some of them have shown a lot of promise but just aren't quite ready for varsity football."

Outside the lone 27-6 win at Covington Holmes on Sept. 8, the Rebels have struggled to score. They've been outscored 368-61 on the season for an average of just under 41-7 and have been shut out four times this year.

"I think we've learned our lesson that we can't take anything for granted," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "It doesn't matter who the opponent is. If you're not executing, you're not going to be successful. For us to be successful now, it's so much different than what the score is. We have to get better at a lot of things. At this time of year, the team that executes the most is the team that wins. The focus is 100 percent on us now."

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Highlands has been outscored, 305-258 on the season for an average of just under 34-29 this year. But the Bluebirds tied their highest point total of the season in a 47-35 win at Greenwood on Friday.

The Highlands Spread offense has put up 1,137 yards rushing and 1,877 passing on the season for averages of just more than 126 rushing and just more than 208 passing per game. For the first time all season against Greenwood, the Bluebirds saw both senior running back Larry Wilson and junior running back Cooper Schwalbach go for more than 100 yards rushing. Schwalbach had 24 carries for 181 yards and five touchdowns and Wilson rushed for 103 yards on 16 carries.

"It was awesome to see those guys working together. There were a couple sets where they were both in the backfield at the same time," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "It helped us get the ball moving without as many mistakes. It turned into some points for us. It becomes such a contagious thing when one guy starts to (churn out extra yards). Everybody wants to get in on it and do the best job they can."

The Highlands offensive line led by seniors Michael Dunn, Justin Merkle, Sam Sparks, Keaton Huddleston, Josh Homer and junior Trent Johnson opened some holes. Wilson and Schwalbach also did a good job fighting for extra yards. Schwalbach has 585 yards on 122 carries and 14 touchdowns for an average of about 4.8 per carry and Wilson has 393 on 64 carries for an average of just more than six per carry.

Highlands quarterback Carl Schoellman has completed 153-of-249 passes for 1,853 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this year. Nine different wide receivers have caught passes for the Bluebirds. Highlands senior wide receiver Jared Wogan has the most catches with 35 for 449 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Nick Veneman has 34 receptions for 530 yards and eight touchdowns, but he did not play against Greenwood.

"In the game on Friday, we had a lot of mistakes with the receivers running the wrong routes and dropping passes," said Grant Summers, Highlands senior wide receiver. "It's mainly just a focus thing because we all know the routes. In the middle of a game, we need to keep our minds on what we're doing as a team and play like we know we can."

Steele said the Rebels have had problems with big plays all season. That is why Highlands has a huge goal offensively in this game. An example is the 21-13 loss at Conner to open the season on Aug. 25. Steele said the Rebels gave up three and not much else in that game.

"We want to get off to a great start with a really clean game and get up on them early as fast as we possibly can," Deaton said. "That was something else that really helped us Friday is we went so fast that it was really hard for Greenwood to keep up with us with guys going both ways. Boone County is in a very similar situation."

The Highlands 3-5 defense recovered three fumbles and record its fourth pick-six of the season against Greenwood. Junior defensive back Casey Greene had a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Gators. Senior linebacker Crosley New had two fumble recoveries and senior linebacker Griffin Huber had the other. New is tied for the lead with junior linebacker Alex Starkey and junior defensive back Bailey Armstrong with two fumble recoveries on the season.

Teams have rushed for 2,591 yards against Highlands and passed for 1,183 for averages of just under 288 and just more than 131 on the season. The Bluebirds allowed 324 yards rushing to Greenwood. But they made plays when all 11 players stuck to their assignments and did nothing more.

Highlands saw its entire starting secondary in Armstrong and senior defensive backs Harrison Traylor and Joe Steiden not play against Greenwood. Junior defensive lineman Ben Sisson and senior defensive lineman Nick Biltz also did not play. Sisson is out for the season with an injury suffered in the Dixie Heights game. That gave others the opportunity to receive some varsity action such as junior Will Salmon. Salmon played a lot on the defensive line against Greenwood.

"I just stepped up. It was nice to finally get some varsity minutes," Salmon said. "It was fun going down to Greenwood and playing against (the Gators). It was a great time. It was fun playing with my teammates. The scout guys really helped (us prepare for Greenwood)."

Boone County still runs a 4-3 defense. Offensively, the Rebels are known for the Power-I offense. But Weinrich said Boone County has been running mostly a Spread offense with four wide receivers. The Rebels have used junior Zach Grau and Hunter Freeman at quarterback this year. John Mark Shutt has been the leading running back and tackler for the Rebels with junior Jantje Wingo and RJ Summers making huge catches.

"We have definitely struggled on offense this year primarily due to our patchwork offensive line," Steele said. "Various injuries have forced us to move guys from other positions in hopes of getting younger linemen ready to play. They have been getting better but we have yet to see the fruits of it."

Highlands leads the all-time series against Boone County, 36-3. The teams started the series back up in 2015 after not playing for four years.

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