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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Highlands-Simon Kenton Football Preview

Bluebirds Hope to Figure Out Pioneers in Final District Tune-Up

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior running back Cooper Schwalbach takes off for a touchdown against Lexington Catholic on Friday. Schwalbach has rushed for five touchdowns this season.
Following the 44-27 Blue and White football team's win in Lexington on Friday, the Lexington Catholic Knights found themselves in a similar category with the Campbell County Camels.

They are both 4-1 on the season with their one loss coming to the Highlands Bluebirds, which owns a similar record at the midway point of the season. Highlands faces yet another undefeated team on Friday when the Class 6A Simon Kenton Pioneers (5-0) come to David Cecil Memorial Stadium. Game time is 7 p.m.

Like the Scott County Cardinals and Ryle Raiders, the Pioneers had beaten the Bluebirds the last three years entering the season. Highlands could not stop the losing streak to Scott County. But the Bluebirds did end the skid against Ryle with a convincing 40-3 win in Union two weeks ago.

The Pioneers come into the game undefeated for the fourth straight year. Simon Kenton has outscored opponents, 198-84 for an average of just under 40 to just under 17 points per game.

"Trusting each other and your own abilities is such an important trait for teams to have," said Jeff Marksberry, Simon Kenton Head Coach. "It is great to see our guys believe in this component of our program year in and year out. Our guys buy into that philosophy and it is very important to us."

Last year's 35-30 defeat in Independence was particularly brutal because the Bluebirds lost the lead late in the game. They led 30-21 after senior Nick Bowman booted a 30-yard field goal with 3:12 left in the game. But the Pioneers scored a quick touchdown, recovered an onside kick then scored again with 14 seconds left.

But Highlands has been making sure games have not been close at the end this year. The Bluebirds have outscored opponents, 161-72 for an average of just more than 32 to 14 per game.

Solid play from the 3-5 Highlands defense has been the key. Highlands may have allowed 414 yards defensively against Lexington Catholic. But the Bluebirds made the Knights drive the field to score. The Knights ran 96 plays for an average of about 4.3 yards per play. Highlands is allowing averages of just under 100 rushing and 140 passing per game.

"There were so many things we took away from the film from Friday's game," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We had some things we were just focusing on (Monday). Just get better at this, just think how good Friday would have been. Let's keep doing what we're doing with this other stuff but let's take these couple things we pointed out from Saturday's film. Let's get better at that. It's a building process. It was a great day at getting better at all those fundamentals."

Highlands did sack Lexington Catholic junior quarterback Beau Allen a couple times in the win. The Bluebirds have eight sacks on the season. Senior linebacker Jackson Hagedorn leads the way with two to go with two interceptions.

The Bluebirds have also set up short field position for the Highlands offense. Highlands has nine interceptions and eight fumble recoveries this year. Junior linebacker Mason Schwalbach leads Highlands with two fumble recoveries and senior defensive back Casey Greene also has two interceptions. Junior linebacker Brycen Huddleston returned a fumble 52 yards for a touchdown against Lexington Catholic.

"They are an athletic, fast group that runs to the football very well," Marksberry said. "We have to take care of the footballl and execute offensively because they are a sound defense. We have to limit negative plays, get a hat on a hat in the run game and protect our quarterback in the passing game."

Simon Kenton runs a spread offense like Highlands does. But the Pioneers have run the ball 214 times and passed it just 68 times. Simon Kenton has run the ball nearly 76 percent of the time this year. The Pioneers average just under 269 yards rushing and just more than 111 yards passing per game.

Marksberry said it took the Pioneers time to figure things out offensively after the graduation of 10 starters. Senior quarterback Caleb Farsing leads the Pioneers with 69 carries for 516 yards and eight touchdowns for an average of about 7.5 per play. Senior running back Jon Sergent and junior running back Austin Hammack have also rushed for more than 300 yards for the Pioneers this year.

"They're just doing a good job of playing to their strengths," Weinrich said. "Their strength right now is their (offensive) line and then their quarterback is a really good athlete. He runs the ball well. They have a scheme in place where he has to make some decisions. So far, he's making great decisions on when to keep the ball, when to give the ball. It really is an option game."

Farsing has completed 37-of-63 passes for 534 yards. His leading receiver has been Sergent with eight catches for 137 yards and a touchdown.

"You can't be worried about other things in the backfield," said Noah LaMothe, Highlands junior defensive back. "You just have to focus on your coverage or your guy. I think that's pretty important."

On the other side of the ball, Highlands will counter with its version of the spread offense. The Bluebirds average 124 yards rushing and 151 passing.

"Our offense is our offense and we're getting better at it each day, each game," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "It's just about tweaking some things and make sure we're executing right. We're definitely going in the right direction."

Highlands senior Cooper Schwalbach continues to lead the Bluebirds with 385 yards rushing on 74 carries and five touchdowns for an average of 5.2 per carry. Sophomore Joe Buten has rushed for three touchdowns.

Bluebirds senior quarterback Grady Cramer has completed 64-of-110 passes for 741 yards, eight touchdowns and just four interceptions playing behind a gelling Bluebird offensive line. Three Highlands wide receivers have 150 or more receiving yards this year. Junior Hunter Ahlfeld leads the way with 12 catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns.

"Our pass protection I'd say has been phenomenal. Cooper and Joe are doing well," said Brock Huber, Highlands junior offensive lineman. "With blocking, we struggled starting out. But we have gotten a lot better as the game progresses. Once we figure out what (opponents) are doing and what's going on, we get in the mindset like, 'Alright. This is what we have to do, what I have to do. Just trust the guy next to you they're going to do their job and you have to make sure they trust you're going to do your job."

The Simon Kenton 3-4 defense has allowed averages of just under 70 rushing and 160 passing. Senior linebacker Clay Cogswell leads the Pioneers with 44 tackles.

Simon Kenton has nine fumble recoveries, 14 sacks and two interceptions this season. Senior defensive lineman JJ Courtney has six quarterback sacks and has returned his lone fumble recovery back 35 yards for a touchdown.

"Each week we simply ask our players to do their jobs," Marksberry said. "There are 11 of them that must be done correctly for any offense or defense to work. If a guy does not do his job or tries to do someone else's job, this causes defensive breakdowns. The Highlands offense can put a lot of stress on a defense because they are a balanced offense and you always have to be aware of them taking a shot down the field with a deep, vertical pass."

Highlands is 25-4 all-time against the Pioneers. Prior to resuming the series in 2015, the Bluebirds and Pioneers last met in 1998.

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