But last year, that didn't happen. As a result of the first loss to the Class 5A, District 5 rival Dixie Heights Colonels since 2002 by a 40-20 count and the loss to Covington Catholic, the Bluebirds hit the road in the first round of the playoffs and wound up losing 52-32 at Louisville Doss.
The teams may appear to be headed in different directions on paper. The Bluebirds come in 2-4 overall on a four-game losing streak and the Colonels come in 3-4 having won their last three games over Cooper (34-20), Boone County (30-0) and Conner (28-21). Highlands led Lexington Catholic and Simon Kenton in the fourth quarter but allowed both teams to score on their last two possessions and ended up losing 21-18 and 35-30 respectively.
Highlands has spent the last two weeks trying to build confidence. The Bluebirds have been making plays to put themselves into position to win games, but have not made enough to seal the deal. But the coaching staff does not want that to linger into district play.
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"One of the things we like to say is, 'Play the next play' whether the play went well or whether the play went bad," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "If the play went well, that's great. You still have to play the next play. If the play went poorly, you still have to play the next play. What matters most is the play coming up not the play that just occurred."
Both teams have allowed 218 points. Highlands has scored 164 points in six games and Dixie Heights has put up 163 in seven games for averages of just more than 27 and 23 points respectively.
"We watch film every week. They see all the plays that they're making," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "They're trusting their keys and everybody is trusting each other. Whether it's offense, defense or special teams, good things happen. If you look at our games, you just take a play here or a play there and it turns out the other way."
The Colonels have rushed for 1,613 yards collectively for an average of just more than 230 yards per game out of their power offense that sees quarterback Jeremy Adams line up under center and in the shotgun. Adams is the third quarterback Dixie Heights has used this year.
The Colonels have six seniors on the offensive line in center Garrett Vanlandingham, guards Dylan Ebeling, Justin Penick and tackles Kairus Washington and Chase Stanfield. All are listed at 6-foot-1-inch and taller and between 255 and 275 pounds.
The sixth senior is 6-6, 255-pound Joey Eckler. He come in to give his teammates a breather and also lines up at tight end. That could pose a challenge for a Highlands 3-5 defense that allows averages of just more than 304 yards per game rushing and 133 passing.
"Their offensive line is definitely their strength," Weinrich said. "They are very, very, very good. That's what's got them on their role lately. Their offensive line has been controlling the game. Last week, Cooper had three offensive plays in the first quarter. You have to be physical and come downhill. Technique is ultra important when you're playing that kind of size and strength."
The leading rusher for the Colonels is senior Brandon Barker with 459 yards on 87 carries, two touchdowns for an average of about 5.3 yards per carry. Senior quarterback Paul Guenther has rushed for 345 yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries for an average of just more than 6.6 yards per carry and senior running back Noah Carey has rushed for 311 yards on 66 carries and three touchdowns for an average of about 4.7 yards per touch. Dixie Heights ate up the clock with long drives limiting the number of offensive plays Cooper ran to 50.
"I think we should just listen to what our coaches are telling us because as a defensive lineman, I'm not very big so I have stay low. I can't get pushed around," said Zach Lewin, Highlands sophomore defensive lineman. "Coach Weinrich has been talking about how their (offensive) line has great technique. They're big. They have one of the best offensive linemen who is like a snowplow and pushes everyone that way. I have to keep fighting."
Dixie Heights averages just 45 yards per game passing the ball. The Colonels have used three different quarterbacks.
Highlands has 10 interceptions and six fumble recoveries on the season including three pick-six touchdowns by senior defensive back Harrison Traylor, junior defensive back Bailey Armstrong and junior defensive lineman Ben Sisson. Senior defensive back Joe Steiden has a team-high four interceptions. Armstrong has two interceptions and two fumble recoveries with junior linebacker Alex Starkey recovering two fumbles.
The Highlands spread offense averages 110.5 yards rushing and just under 220 passing per game. The Bluebirds hope to have junior Cooper Schwalbach and senior Larry Wilson in the backfield against the Colonels. That happened just once at the start of the season-opening win at Cooper. Wilson is coming off a career-best 171 yards rushing on 18 carries for an average of 9.5 yards per touch against Simon Kenton. Schwalbach still leads the Bluebirds with 308 yards rushing on 78 carries and eight touchdowns for an average of just under four yards per carry. Sophomores Sawyer Depp and Wes Bowling also saw action against Simon Kenton.
"Anytime we can get some of our guys healthy, playing and out on the field, it's going to make our offense better," Deaton said. "It certainly makes Larry and Cooper good. But Wes and Sawyer are doing a good job and have gotten better with each game. Hopefully, we'll be able to get more production out of those guys once we get the other ones back."
The Highlands offensive line continues to protect well. Highlands senior quarterback Carl Schoellman has completed 115-of-177 passes for 1,318 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Senior Nick Veneman leads Highlands with 29 catches for 377 yards and four touchdowns and senior Jared Wogan is second with 26 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
"These past couple weeks, (Highlands assistant) Coach (Scott) Turner has really been focusing on footwork and staying on blocks longer," said Trent Johnson, Highlands junior offensive lineman. "It's nothing big. We all know what we're supposed to do on each play. We just have to perfect the little things so that if we keep doing everything right, big plays are going to happen."
The Colonel 4-3 defense allows averages of 107 per game rushing the ball and 126 passing. Senior defensive back Bradley O'Conner leads Dixie Heights with 38 tackles and junior defensive back CJ Bensman has 35. The Colonels have just four interceptions and two fumble recoveries this year. Senior Will Reidmatter has two interceptions to lead Dixie Heights.
The meeting Friday at 7 p.m. at David Cecil Memorial Stadium will mark the 74th meeting between the Colonels and Bluebirds. Dixie Heights will pass Covington Holmes as the most common opponent in Highlands history. The Bluebirds lead the all-time series, 64-9.