|Bluebirds Earn Another Huge Victory|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior defensive back Bailey Armstrong (left) pursues Simon Kenton senior running back Jon Sergent (33) on Friday.|
The Simon Kenton Pioneers from Class 6A's District 6 came into the game at David Cecil Memorial Stadium undefeated. But the combined record of the five opponents the two teams faced coming into the game favored the host Highlands Bluebirds. The combined record of the first five Highlands opponents was 14-11 compared to 6-17 for the Pioneers.
Simon Kenton beat one team with a winning record in the Conner Cougars, 31-13 in a lightning-shortened game on Sept. 1 in Independence. Highlands scored a few quick touchdowns and the defense held up until the Bluebirds put the points on the board to pull away for a 38-9 non-district victory. Both teams are 5-1 on the season.
This marked the 890th victory in program history for the Bluebirds and their first win over Simon Kenton since 1998. The Pioneers stayed undefeated after beating the Bluebirds the last three seasons (See sidebar in sports for more details).
Simon Kenton out-gained Highlands, 270-245. But the Bluebirds defense again made a team drive the field and took advantage of Pioneer mistakes along the way. Highlands averaged a little more than four yards per play on 60 plays compared to just under three on 91 plays for Simon Kenton.
The Pioneers run the read option with senior quarterback Caleb Farfsing, senior running back Jon Sergent and junior running back Austin Hammack out of the spread formation. Sergent ran for 10 yards above his average per game going for 73 yards on 13 carries for an average of 5.6 yards per carry. But the Bluebirds contained them.
"We worked all week in terms of our angles, our alignment and what our keys were and the whole focus was keeping (Farfsing) where we knew where he was," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We didn't want him to get out out there (in the open) because when he gets out there, he's dangerous. All it takes is one play. He's really hard to tackle in the open. We made the sure the guys were where they needed to be."
Farfsing led the Simon Kenton attack that gained 178 yards on 49 carries for an average of 3.6 per carry with 84 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown for an average of seven per touch. Hammack had minus-five yards on four touches. Farfsing and Hammack averaged 103 and 76 yards rushing per game coming into the game. Simon Kenton averaged just under 269 yards rushing per game entering the game. Hammack left the game with an injury in the first half and Farfsing left the game in the second half.
The Highlands 3-5 defense consistently penetrated the Simon Kenton backfield recording 12 tackles for a loss including three sacks. Junior defensive linemen Conner Zell and Griffin Welsch led the Bluebirds with two tackles for a loss each. Senior defensive lineman Zach Lewin and senior linebacker Jackson Hagedorn had one sack each.
Hagedorn recorded another defensive touchdown for the Bluebirds. On the first snap after Farsing left with an injury, freshman Jack Nelsen took over as quarterback for the Pioneers. Simon Kenton snapped the ball past Nelsen. Hagedorn picked up the loose ball on a scramble and dashed 35 yards for a touchdown to put Highlands up 31-7 with 4:26 left in the third quarter.
"I think it really changes the tide of the game," Hagedorn said of defensive scores. "It really gives us the momentum when we get the ball back. Even if our offense doesn't do that well, we know they'll do well the next time. But when we come out, we can depend on ourselves to get a touchdown and if they do, that's even better."
That marked the only turnover for the Pioneers. Highlands lost two fumbles. One came in the third quarter when a ball hit off a Bluebirds player on a Simon Kenton punt. But Hagedorn's touchdown came shortly after that. Senior defensive back David LeCount had a fumble recovery for Simon Kenton.
The consistent pressure forced the Pioneers to have to throw the ball. Farfsing and Nelsen combined to complete 10-of-29 passes for 92 yards. Sergent, junior running back/wide receiver Quincy North and junior wide receiver Evan Mulberry had two catches each, but none had more than 23 yards receiving. The longest pass play went 20 yards for Simon Kenton.
"Anytime a team relies on what they do and you can get up, it should help you," Weinrich said. "They were continuing to grind the ball and keep the ball away (from Highlands) because that's their offense. Even though they weren't throwing the ball, they're a big play offense. They're always one play away from making something happen because they get you going one way then all of a sudden, here comes the quarterback so they don't always have to throw the ball just because you're down. What they do is what they do and we couldn't let the scoreboard affect how we were playing defensively."
Highlands passed for 152 yards and rushed for just 93 as the Simon Kenton 3-4 defense keyed on stopping Bluebirds senior running back Cooper Schwalbach holding him to 38 yards on 15 carries with a game-long run of eight yards for an average of just more than 2.5 yards per carry.
The majority of the Highlands rushing yards came with 1:05 left in the game. Sophomore running back Joe Buten broke free for a 69-yard scamper up the middle. Buten finished with 70 yards rushing on five carries and a touchdown for an average of 14 yards per touch. Schwalbach averaged 77 yards per game rushing and Buten 36 entering the game.
Highlands tried to loosen the Simon Kenton defense through the air. But the Bluebirds could not connect consistently against the experienced Pioneer defense. Highlands senior quarterback Grady Cramer was 8-of-23 for 103 yards and one touchdown. The Pioneers recorded five sacks in the game.
"The main thing for us between a successful drive and an unsuccessful drive was how aggressive we were up front," said Max Dierig, Highlands offensive lineman. "On every play we scored, we were putting our faces in their chests and really driving them back. When we weren't scoring, we were being more passive and trying to catch their guys off the line. When your mindset is right to play on the offensive line when you're out there, you're going to dominate every play."
Highlands junior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth came in for a couple drives and completed 5-of-6 passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. On 4th-and-goal from the Simon Kenton 4, Hollingsworth completed a crucial touchdown pass in the left front corner to senior wide receiver Austin King with 2:18 left in the first half to give Highlands a 24-7 lead at halftime.
"It was crazy. I saw a bunch of pressure up front," Hollingsworth said. "There was a guy coming at me so I ran to my left on my (throwing) arm side. I saw him breaking out on the out route. It was simple."
Six different Highlands receivers had catches for the Bluebirds. King led the way with five catches for 16 yards and Schwalbach had three for 34 including a 20-yard completion. Junior Hunter Ahlfeld recorded a 30-yard catch in the first half and ran into the end zone. But the side judge ruled he stepped out of bounds at the Simon Kenton 15. Highlands missed a field goal several plays later.
The game started off strong for Highlands as junior linebacker Brycen Huddleston returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. That marked Huddleston's second kickoff return for a score this year.
Highlands has had consistent special teams play this season. Cramer had five punts for an average of 39 yards including a 52-yarder in the first half. Cramer had two punts inside the Simon Kenton 20. Simon Kenton had one return for 10 yards. On eight kickoffs, Bowman put two in the end zone for a touch-back and the Bluebirds limited Simon Kenton to a long of 21 on six kickoff returns.
"We really take pride in it," said John Kohler, Highlands defensive back. "We take emphasis. We take time in practice to work on special teams. We work on getting down the field as fast as we can. Then it comes down to the guys. We have a great group of guys. We fly down there and try to make plays. That's all it is."
Following a bad snap on a punt, Highlands took over at the Simon Kenton 11. Following a tough offensive pass interference call, junior Adam Weyer ran behind the Pioneer defense for a 25-yard touchdown catch on a post route and senior Nick Bowman made the point-after kick to put the Bluebirds up 14-0 with 9:41 left in the first quarter.
Simon Kenton then finished its lone drive offensively on the next series. Farfsing faked a hand-off then broke free for a 38-yard touchdown run and senior Christian Seger made the PAT to cut the Highlands lead to 14-7 with 7:13 left in the first quarter.
Highlands drove down the field and managed a Bowman 33-yard field goal with 2:50 left in the quarter to go up 17-7. On third down before the field-goal try, Cramer threw into the end zone. But pass interference was not called on the tight play.
Simon Kenton scored just two points in the second half. It came on a safety in the fourth quarter.
Highlands has its bye week before facing Dixie Heights on Thursday, Oct. 4 in Edgewood. That game starts at 7 p.m. and is the final road game of the regular season for the Bluebirds.