|Bluebirds Look to Take More Steps Forward Against Camels|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior linebacker Alex Starkey (32) gets in position during the game against Cooper.|
But that is not the case for the Highlands Bluebirds football team. Head Coach Brian Weinrich said the mentality carried over from last year's team.
"We don't have to spend a lot of energy coaching effort, asking for more energy," Weinrich said. "As a coach, that's what you ask of the players. They're going to take it upon themselves and demand that of each other. They're doing a tremendous job of that."
The Bluebirds hope to see those efforts pay off Friday headed down US 27 to Alexandria to face the rival Campbell County Camels at 7 p.m. Both teams opened the season with wins Friday. Highlands knocked off Cooper, 36-7 and Campbell County took out host Dixie Heights, 34-3.
The Camels have a new head coach this season in Mike Woolf. Woolf, a 1988 Covington Catholic graduate, served as defensive coordinator for the Camels from 1997 to 2003 before going to Ryle in the same spot for the past 15 years. Woolf helped the Colonels to their first state championship in 1987.
Woolf brought his 4-3 defensive scheme to Campbell County. The Camels held the Colonels to no rushing yards and 161 passing. They have some size on their lines with seniors Billy Spaulding (6-feet-1-inches, 250 pounds), Tim Rolf (6-6, 260) and Kristian Fletcher (6-4, 260). Senior defensive back Logan Harrod had an interception against the Camels. Senior Tanner Lawrence (6-3, 240) returns for his third season at defensive end.
"They do a lot of different things and the thing about them doing a lot of different things with their defensive line and linebackers is when they do it, they're still very gap sound," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "When they're crossing and doing all the different twists that they do, they know where they're going and they don't leave open gaps. It's been that way since I've seen them at Ryle and it's that way now at Campbell."
Highlands will counter with its spread attack. The Bluebirds put up 349 yards of total offense against the Jaguars. Senior running back Cooper Schwalbach led the way with 109 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown for an average of just more than six yards per carry. Senior wide receiver Nate Roberts scored a 65-yard touchdown on an end-around with 30 seconds left in the first half.
The Camels focused on containing Schwalbach last year and held him to just 29 yards rushing on the same number of carries and two touchdowns after his 150-yard, four-touchdown performance the previous week at Cooper. Schwalbach still scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime in a 27-20 Highlands win. The Camels may take the same strategy defensively this year.
"It's always important to be able to pass the ball," Deaton said. "But even with running, our linemen have to trust what they're supposed to do and trust their paths with all that stuff that is going on. When they trust their paths and do that on Friday, then the running game should work as well as trusting what your roles are in pass protection."
The Highlands offensive line blocked well for the skill position players last week. Bluebird senior quarterback Grady Cramer completed 14-of-23 passes for 121 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Junior Hunter Ahlfeld led the Bluebirds with three catches for 58 yards and a 44-yard touchdown in the second quarter on a quick slant.
The Bluebirds did not have great success connecting on deep routes. Several came inches shy of huge completions. That along with cutting down on turnovers will be focuses in practice this week. The Bluebirds also lost a fumble in the win over the Jaguars.
"We know that we're capable of using the deep ball very effectively as part of our offense," said Joey Deschler, Highlands junior wide receiver. "I know we're going to work on it a lot this week in preparation for Campbell County. We're just trying to get a connection down between the receivers and our quarterback. Once we get that, I think that's going to be a very effective part of our offense."
Defensively, Highlands put pressure on Cooper quarterback Jeremiah Lee well all game. Lee had just 19 carries for 32 yards. Senior defensive lineman Zach Lewin had a fumble recovery and sack. Senior linebacker Jackson Hagedorn also had a sack.
Cooper had just 206 yards on 64 plays for an average of just more than 3.2 yards per play. The Jaguars did have some success running up the middle against the 3-5 Highlands defense.
"We're just going to go find all the mistakes we had and try to fix them," said Griffin Welsch, Highlands junior defensive lineman. "It's vital to do your job. If you don't get to the gap or do what you're supposed to do, you're not going to make the play."
Campbell County also runs a Spread offense. Against Dixie Heights, Camel senior quarterback Andrew Helton completed 15-of-27 passes for 338 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Reid Jolly led the way with six catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns. Jolly had a touchdown after Helton faked the sweep to senior Grant Jolly.
"It's the guys up front getting pressure in the pocket making the quarterback uncomfortable," Weinrich said. "It's linebackers playing the run first, reading pass and disrupting routes. It's the defensive backs working together with whatever the coverage may be and how we're going to play the receiver. When someone starts trying to worry about someone that's not their responsibility, that's when you have problems."
The Camels rushed for 138 yards on 30 carries for an average of 4.6 per touch. Grant Jolly led the way with 12 rushes for 86 yards and a touchdown for an average of just more than seven per carry.
"I don't think coaches necessarily sit around and think we have to be balanced," Weinrich said. "They're going to take what you give them. If you watch their film, you can tell. When the run is there, they run it. When the pass is there, they pass it. Defensively, you can't stop everything every play so you have to be prepared. You have to have an idea of what to expect. Hopefully, the guys execute what's called and put themselves in position to make a play. If you're going to run the ball every play no matter what, that's different than just taking what's there. I think Campbell County does a great job at least in what we've seen in the game and scrimmage of taking what's there and not pressing the issue."
Highlands is 54-10 all-time against Campbell County. The Bluebirds have won four of the five meetings since the series resumed in 2013 after the teams had not played each other since 2004.