|Bluebirds Claw Out 36-12 Road Victory|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore defensive back Hunter Ahlfeld (37) pursues Boone County's Jantje Wingo (6) while teammate Gavin Downard (17) gets in position.|
It had been a while since the Highlands Bluebirds football team faced this difficult of weather and field conditions.
Highlands had faced temperatures similar to Friday in the 50 and 60-degree Fahrenheit range late in the regular season into the playoffs in recent years. But it had been a while since the Bluebirds (5-5) battled the combination of steady rain coming down on a grass field. As a result, a number of fans stayed home.
Despite that, the Bluebirds found their own intensity and defeated the Boone County Rebels, 36-12 to finish the regular season 5-5 overall and go into the playoffs on a two-game winning streak. The Rebels are the lone team the Bluebirds have beaten in each of the past three years.
"To be able to try to execute the best we could, we felt good about that," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We got a lead before it got too bad out there. The conditions didn't put the game in jeopardy so that was a positive."
Highlands used another solid rushing game, nice defense, solid special teams play and again won the turnover battle to win the game. The Bluebirds recovered two Rebel fumbles. Junior linebacker Alex Starkey returned one of the two lost Rebel fumbles back 67 yards for a touchdown and sophomore defensive back Hunter Ahlfeld had the other. Starkey has a team-high three fumble recoveries on the season.
Highlands also came to Florence in 2015 needing a win to finish 5-5 and came away with a 32-6 victory. That Bluebird squad finished 8-6 overall. Highlands won seven straight that year before losing 41-31 to Pulaski County in the Class 5A state semifinals.
Boone County dropped to 4-61 since going 9-5 and losing to Scott County, 16-14 in the Class 6A state semifinals. The Rebels have dropped seven in a row.
Both teams rushed for 234 yards. But Highlands quarterback Carl Schoellman completed two of his eight passes for 60 yards to make the total 294 yards for the Bluebirds on 53 plays for an average of about 5.5 per play.
"I think we did much better this week than we did last week, especially as the game wore on and the field conditions got worse," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "Guys stepped up and made plays. We were able to put it together in the third and fourth quarter and stay ahead."
The Highlands offensive line again blocked well enough to let senior running back Larry Wilson and junior running back Cooper Schwalbach reach the second level of the 4-3 Rebel defense and make things happen. Wilson had 17 carries for 142 yards for an average of about 8.4 yards per carry and Schwalbach had 91 yards rushing on 12 carries for an average of about 7.6 per touch and two touchdowns.
"We've definitely been putting in the time during the week in practices preparing for the game," said Josh Homer, Highlands senior offensive lineman. "It is true that being out here in the mud is difficult. Basically, we had to do what we could. It's really gratifying when you're blocking and you see the guy zoom by you and get a long play or touchdown."
The versatile junior Grady Cramer also had a nice game. Cramer had one catch for 53 yards, three carries for 13 yards and a touchdown. Cramer added two two-point conversion runs out of the Bluebird swinging-gate formation.
On the other side, the Rebels had 246 yards on 66 plays for an average of about 3.7 per play. Boone County quarterback Zach Grau completed just 1-of-4 pass attempts for 12 yards to junior John Mark Shutt.
Shutt also led the Rebels on the ground with 117 yards rushing on eight carries for an average of 14.6 per carry. Senior Dylan Ward added 82 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown for an average of just more than three per carry. Huffman also had an interception defensively.
"It was just so hard to get footing and any penetration up front," Weinrich said. "It was just so hard to tackle out there. You saw both sides in the second half. You were waiting for someone to slip."
Both teams struggled on third and fourth-down conversions. Boone County converted 4-of-13 on third down for 31 percent and 1-of-2 on fourth for 50 percent. Highlands converted just 2-of-9 on third down for 22 percent and none of its five fourth-down tries.
"We had to bust through the holes," said Hunter Ahlfeld, Highlands sophomore defensive back. "We had to make sure all the gaps were closed and make sure we got low on (Shutt) because he's a big guy. He's not easy to tackle."
Boone County came out focusing on the Highlands running game. That's when Schoellman hit Cramer on the left side on a quick out. Cramer then made a Rebel defender miss and go down the field inside the Rebel 5. Cramer then scored from six yards out and converted the two-point run to put the Bluebirds up 8-0.
Boone County tried to answer. But the ball came out and Starkey picked it up and rumbled down the right side for the 67-yard score. Cramer's second two-point run made it 16-0 Bluebirds.
Later in the first quarter, Schwalbach broke free for a 33-yard touchdown to give Highlands a 22-0 lead after the first quarter.
The Bluebirds went up 29-0 in the second quarter on a special teams touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Brycen Huddleston returned a punt 53 yards to the house.
The Rebels did score before halftime. Junior Jantje Wingo broke free for a 33-yard score. The conversion run failed leaving the score 29-6 Bluebirds at halftime.
"We talked at halftime. It was a multitude of mistakes we made," said Marty Steele, Rebel Head Coach. "Things could have been different. I'm really happy, pleased with how hard they played. That's something we can build on moving into the playoffs, moving into the future."
Both teams scored one touchdown in the second half. Schwalbach broke free for a 49-yard touchdown in the third quarter and Ward scored from three yards out in the fourth quarter for Boone County.
Highlands will be playing host to a Class 5A playoff game next week. The Bluebirds will face the Oldham County Colonels (6-4) from District 3. Highlands is 3-0 all-time against Oldham County.
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