|Bluebirds #Dominate Second Half in Rivalry Win|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore Joe Buten (26) jumps forward while senior offensive linemen Will Salmon (52) watches and Trent Johnson (65) blocks.|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior Nate Roberts (80) goes up for a touchdown while teammate Austin King (13) closes in. The Bluebirds trailed 7-6 at halftime, but pulled away for a 34-7 win.|
That indicated a strong possibility of another tight finish like the US 27 rivalry battle between the Highlands Bluebirds and Campbell County Camels have seen in three of the past four seasons, especially at Campbell County Stadium. But the Highlands Bluebirds (2-0) hit the ground running offensively in the second half and quickly ran away from the Camels (1-1) for a 34-7 victory.
"We really found out what kind of guys we are in this game," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "We said at halftime, 'Hey. We're going to do what Highlands football is going to do - what we've worked on all week. We're going to execute it. We're going to get the ball on the first drive of the second half and we're going to go score.' We went. We got the ball in the first half. We scored. It was great to see guys score. I'm pretty sure we had six possessions and four scores. We need to do that in the first half. But we were in a situation in the first half where we had to come back."
The Bluebird offense finished with 310 yards of total offense on 82 plays for an average of about 3.8 yards per carry. Highlands had 20 first downs and converted on 7-of-17 third-down tries for 41 percent and 3-of-6 on fourth down for 50 percent.
On the other side, Campbell County had just 248 yards on 59 plays for an average of just more than 4.2 per play. The Camels recorded 16 first downs, converted 2-of-9 third-down tries for 22 percent and went 0-for-2 on fourth down. The Bluebirds wanted to contain senior running back Grant Jolly and senior wide receiver Reid Jolly after they had big games last week (see sidebar).
"Every play, we are planning that a guy is going to score and we're going to keep grinding at it and keep going," Deaton said. "But I'll also say our defense was pretty darn good. They did an amazing job in the first half then we as an offense said, 'Hey. We need to match what the defense is doing in the first half because our defense is playing lights out.' Our defensive guys did their jobs. We need to do the same thing for the whole game."
But the Bluebirds began hitting some things in the passing game in the second half mostly on intermediate routes. Highlands senior quarterback Grady Cramer completed 17-of-29 passes for 179 yards and four touchdowns to go with just one interception to seven different receivers.
Senior Austin King led the way with seven receptions for 96 yards. His lone touchdown put the Bluebirds up for good at 13-7 just 69 seconds into the second half. King faked a quick out route, then sprinted up-field. Cramer faked the carry to Schwalbach and found him wide open behind the defense for the 59-yard score. King credited the Highlands defense for holding the fort down until the Bluebird offense cranked it in gear.
"Obviously, we practiced that kind of stuff this week. Definitely in the first half as you could see, we couldn't really get anything going," King said. "But that wasn't a testament to what the coaches have (done) in practice. We do that every week and we do it very well. It was just the effort that we brought forward. It seems as though we were able to tire them down sort of and we just got together as a team and trusted our stuff."
The Highlands offensive line held in there despite allowing some penetration in the first half. They gave Cramer more time in the second half and paved the way for 131 yards rushing, especially late in the game. After Schwalbach, sophomore Joe Buten had 12 carries for 51 yards a touchdown. His 10-yard run with 7:48 left made the final score.
"It's really important to stick together with the team," said Will Gastright, Highlands senior offensive lineman. "If the O-line doesn't work together, then things kind of fall apart. When we all work together as one like we saw in the second half, everything started working well."
Three other wide receivers had catches for Highlands. Senior Nate Roberts had three catches for 16 yards with junior Hunter Ahlfeld and junior Ethan Houze had two catches each for 23 and 13 yards respectively.
It helped that the Highlands defense recorded six turnovers on interceptions from senior Casey Greene, junior Jacob Brass and sophomore Jason Noe and fumble recoveries by Buten, junior linebacker Mason Schwalbach and junior defensive back John Kohler. Greene has two interceptions on the season. Highlands has nine takeaways to four giveaways on the season for a plus-five in the plus/minus category.
"Obviously, turnovers can change the game both ways so we did a good job of taking advantage of it, flipped the field a couple times," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We turnovers on special teams just huge. You score. You kick off. You get the ball right back. Your offense stalls. You punt. You get the ball right back. It's just all the guys just buying into each other, just flying around and making plays for each other. That's what they're doing right now and they're just working so hard for each other."
Campbell County tried to attack up the middle like Cooper did last week with little success. The Camels had 18 carries for just 54 yards rushing for an average of three per touch. Senior quarterback Andrew Helton had some luck on quarterback sweeps rushing for 40 yards on five carries for an average of eight per touch.
Helton ended up completing 14-of-33 passes for 194 yards, three interceptions and a touchdown. Cartwright led the way with six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.
"The pass rush is vital," said Brennan Haigis, Highlands junior linebacker. "We always have to shoot our hands to our gaps. You can never break contain and that's just what we thrive on right now."
Following a fumble, Highlands drove and scored quickly. Cramer found Roberts on the right side. Roberts turned and leaped forward making the sure ball crossed the plane for an 8-yard score. Cooper Schwalbach took a pass in the left flats on the two-point conversion. He appeared headed for the end zone, but was stopped short out of bounds near the sidelines on an apparent horse-caller tackle.
Highlands had a few more drives into Camel territory end on fourth down with another ending on an interception. The Camels scored in the second quarter when Helton found junior Nick Cartwright for the touchdown. Senior Peyton Anderson made the point-after kick to put the Camels up 7-6.
Following King's score, Greene had an interception in Highlands territory and returned it deep into Campbell County territory. On third down, Cramer rolled to his right then found Roberts in the back of the end zone with 4:57 left in the third for an 8-yard touchdown. Haigis made his first of PATs to put the Bluebirds up 20-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Buten recovered a Camel fumble and the Bluebirds took advantage. Cramer found Ahlfeld on the left side for a 14-yard touchdown with 2:53 left in the third to put the Bluebirds up 27-7.
Highlands takes on Scott County (2-0) on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Fort Thomas.