|Bluebirds Hope to Reverse Fortunes Against Cardinals|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior quarterback Grady Cramer (18) goes for the stiff-arm in the win over Campbell County on Friday.|
This year's Highlands squad hopes to show it is ready to do that again consistently in a battle of 2-0 teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 poll. Highlands, ranked fourth in Class 5A, takes on Class 6A's second-ranked Scott County Cardinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the friendly confines of David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
Highlands has consistently flexed its muscles defensively in its first two games allowing 145 yards rushing and 309 yards passing to go with 14 points for averages of 72.5 rushing, 154.5 passing and seven points. The 3-5 Bluebird defense has given the offense good field position with five interceptions and four fumble recoveries including three of each in the 34-7 win at Campbell County on Friday. Senior defensive back Casey Greene leads the way with two interceptions.
Cooper and Campbell County tried to rush between the tackles in addition to calling various quarterback run plays. But the Highlands defensive line in seniors Ben Sisson and juniors Conner Zell and Zach Lewin have held their points allowing the linebackers and defensive backs to come in, fill the gaps and make the tackles.
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One look at the stats shows why that needs to continue against the Cardinals. Scott County will bring its vaunted traditional Wing-T offense to town. In a 56-13 season-opening win over North Bullitt and a 58-28 win over Lexington Lafayette at home, the Cardinals rushed for a grand total of 867 yards including 601 in the win against Lafayette for a two-game total of 433.5 per game.
"What the offense is doesn't matter. If you do what you're supposed to do defensively, whatever you want to label their offense is irrelevant," Weinrich said. "You can only block so many different ways. You can only run so many routes. So if your job is to key a certain offensive lineman and he blocks a certain way, you got to distinguish. You have to respond."
The Cardinal attack starts up front with senior left tackle Bryan Hudson. The Virginia Tech commit is a four-year starter for Scott County. Senior Tyler Sammons plays center for the Cardinals.
Junior running back Bronson Brown leads the Scott County rushing attack with 303 yards rushing on 23 attempts and three touchdowns for an average of just more than 13 per carry. Senior fullback Austin Barnett has rushed for 269 yards on 35 carries and eight touchdowns for an average of 7.7 per carry. Senior running back Payton Brown has rushed for 127 yards on 16 carries. Despite those averages, veteran Scott County Head Coach Jim McKee noted some concerns entering the game.
"They are not going to beat themselves," McKee said. "They are solid in all aspects of the game from special teams to offense and defense. You have to earn everything you get. We are battling some injuries and some new kids starting so we are not really as far along as we had hoped for at this junction in the season. We are looking forward to making the trip, playing a class opponent and having fun playing this great game."
The Cardinals have a new starting quarterback in junior Cade McKee. The Cardinals have passed for 130 yards this season. Senior wide receiver Glenn Covington leads the way with five receptions for 79 yards. Covington had six receptions for 115 yards in the 71-20 Cardinal win over the injury-riddled Bluebirds last year. He burned Highlands for a touchdown following a fake dive last year. Thus, the defensive backs also need to be weary of what is going on in the Scott County backfield.
"You have to focus on your assignment and trust the guy next to you," said Bailey Armstrong, Highlands senior defensive back. "It all usually works out. Scott County likes to get you focusing on their run game and whenever you fall asleep, focus on the pass. You have to stay alert the whole game."
On the other side, the Highlands spread offense hopes to put two halves together better. The Bluebirds are averaging 35 points a game to go along with averages of 178.5 per game rushing and 152 passing. They've scored on both opening possessions against Cooper and Campbell County. Highlands scored two late touchdowns in the second quarter to build a 22-7 halftime lead on Cooper before quickly erasing a 7-6 halftime deficit against Campbell County.
"It's not so much doing what we say, just not thinking and playing fast," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "When you don't think, you play fast because you have confidence in what you're doing. When they do that, it's pretty special."
The offensive line blocked better in the second half for the Highlands skill position players against Campbell County. The Camels sacked senior quarterback Grady Cramer a couple times in the first half.
"It's just trusting what the coaches say and on your assignment, stay on your path," said Jackson Curry, Highlands junior offensive lineman. "Once you start thinking about what the defense is doing is when you mess up."
Cramer has completed 31-of-52 passes for 300 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. Senior Austin King leads the way with 10 catches for 111 yards and a 59-yard touchdown against Campbell County. Senior Nate Roberts and junior Hunter Ahlfeld have two touchdown receptions each.
Senior Cooper Schwalbach has been the feature running back with 42 carries for 188 yards and a touchdown for Highlands for an average of about 4.5 per touch. But sophomore Joe Buten saw some more carries against Campbell County. Buten has 93 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns for an average of about 5.5 per touch.
"Trying to get to different peoples' hands as possible is good," Deaton said. "I feel like the last two games we played, we've been doing that. In both games, at least seven different guys have caught the ball and two to three different guys have run the ball. So if we can keep doing that, that'll only help our offense. It keeps one guy from having to carry too much of a load. It means a defense has to honor many different guys."
Lafayette did throw for 254 yards against the 4-3 Scott County defense. But the Cardinals have allowed just 20 yards rushing this season and 397 passing.
Deaton said Hudson, senior defensive end Zack Coleman, senior defensive tackle Christian Carter and junior linebacker Alberto Campos have held their points on the defensive line allowing the linebackers to make the tackles. Senior linebacker Berk Watts leads the Cardinals with 11 stops and junior linebacker Sam Daniel has 10. Senior linebacker Matt Fannin follows with nine and Hudson has eight to go with three tackles for a loss.
Scott County has 143 players grades nine through 12 including 24 seniors. This will mark the last year the school district has one high school when Great Crossing High School opens next year in Georgetown. Both teams will compete in Class 5A, District 6 with Frederick Douglass, Grant County and Montgomery County.
"We have enjoyed our series with Highlands as it has allowed us a great opportunity to play a quality opponent," Coach McKee said. "It is not an easy place to play for sure and the kids from Highlands play so hard, that is one thing that has really impressed us, it is clear that football is important to them and that they care a great deal about it. When we drop to 5A next year we anticipate high stakes playoff games with the Birds in future years."
Scott County leads the all-time series, 5-1 with wins in each of the past three seasons. The lone Highlands win over the Cardinals came on Aug. 24, 2012 by a 60-37 score in Fort Thomas.