|Bruins Pull Out Late Win Over Bluebirds in Scrimmage|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Hunter Ahlfeld takes the opening kickoff in the scrimmage against Louisville Ballard on Thursday.|
But the good news is it's better to happen in a scrimmage game than during the regular season or postseason. The Highlands Bluebirds football team led late in the scrimmage against the host Louisville Ballard Bruins. But the Bruins scored with one minute, 15 seconds to pull off a 19-14 victory.
The freshmen and junior varsity teams split the field in the first hour of the three-hour time-frame allowed by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association for scrimmages. The varsity game went to a running clock in the second half to get the full four quarters in.
Ballard is in Class 6A, District 4 with two-time defending Class 6A state champion Louisville Trinity. The Bruins lost 52-12 at Simon Kenton in the second round of the playoffs last year.
"We did a lot of great things," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "It's a scrimmage so you come in blind. You don't scout them. You don't have a game plan. You just kind of go with the base stuff and adjust from there. At the same time, you try to just work on some things, not necessarily what's best for that particular situation, but guys played hard. We tried to rotate a lot of guys in and get a lot of guys on film. This is the best chance we have to evaluate before (the games) are for real."
"In a big game scrimmage, you have to make that play," Weinrich said. "That's just football. It's never going to work out like it's drawn. We'll live and learn from that. We have to make sure we get pressure up front. It makes the quarterback uncomfortable. We would have done things a little bit different coverage-wise on that, but we had to go with what we had in for this game."
But Ballard senior quarterback Austin Carr found senior Elijah Downing in the middle of the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown. Carr completed 10-of-22 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns. Downing had six catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns against the 3-5 Highlands defense. The Bruins hit a lot of passes less than 10 yards just beyond the flats.
"You challenge yourself as an athlete," Weinrich said. "You get up (to the line of scrimmage) and challenge the wide receiver. We were getting frustrated. The guys were a little tentative at first. It was the first time the varsity lights came on against another team. They wouldn't trust themselves early and we gave up some dinks and dunks we don't want to give up. Once those guys bought in to what we were trying to sell them and they got up into their faces, we took everything away. Once they let themselves just play, I felt good about where we were."
Ballard ended up out-gaining Highlands, 264-138 in total offense including 72-46 on the ground. Senior quarterback Grady Cramer completed 11-of-23 passes for 92 yards. Junior Hunter Ahlfeld led Highlands with three catches for 38 yards. Ahlfeld also saw time at defensive back. Senior Ben Sisson also saw action on both sides of the ball at defensive end and tight end.
"It's crazy good for us because we have multiple guys going both ways," Ahlfeld said. "We can just lengthen out our line-up. It's way too good for us."
Sisson had one sack and junior defensive lineman Conner Zell had another one. Highlands blew up a number of plays in the backfield.
"It really feels good. It helps us hold up some adrenaline and keep us on our feet," Zell said. "It's just kind of disappointing when stuff like this happen. You have to just do what the coaches tell you to do. You have to read your keys. If you don't then a big play is going to happen. If you do what they tell you to do, 99.99 percent of the time, it's going to work out. Big plays happen sometimes. You just have to overcome them."
Both teams ran spread offenses out of the shotgun. Junior Jayden Farmer led all rushers with 80 yards on 11 carries.
"We did have two nice, long drives," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "That's good. But we need to look at the things we really need to focus on the (possessions) where we didn't have a good drive. Already, I noticed a couple things that we messed up. Also, it was great because we got to get a lot of different guys in there in spots to see who is going to be guys that we can count on Friday."
Junior Brycen Huddleston scored both touchdowns for Highlands. He returned the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown and did a somersault into the end zone for a 2-yard score with 1:30 left in the third quarter. Senior Nick Bowman's second of two extra-point tries gave Highlands the 14-13 lead.
Ahlfeld set up the second score with a nice catch and run. He took an inside pass from Cramer and ran 23 yards to set Highlands up at 1st-and-Goal from the Ballard 5. Ballard used a four-man front for most of the game.
"They were shading and moving more up front that we thought," Deaton said. "But that's fine. We like that. We do that all the time to ourselves with our defense. The more they can mess with us, the better so we can adjust to it better."
Ballard ties the game on a 4th-and-2 from its own 15 with 7.6 seconds left in the first quarter. Downing took a pass on the right side, broke some tackles and rumbled 85 yards for the touchdown.
Junior Dylan Brown gave Ballard the lead in the middle of the second quarter. He took an inside screen 15 yards to the house.
Highlands opens the season on Aug. 18 against Cooper. Game time is 7 p.m.