Saturday, October 27, 2018

Highlands-Boone County Game Story

Bluebirds Dominate Rebels, 55-14

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior Brycen Huddleston returns a kickoff against Boone County on Friday. Huddleston returned a punt 47 yards for a touchdown in the Bluebirds' 55-14 win over the Rebels.
PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore defensive back Bryson Cody (31) tries to power through a block on a kickoff return against Boone County on Friday.
Highlands may not have finished the first offensive drive of the football game.
But the Bluebirds established good field position. The visiting Boone County Rebels (2-8 overall) fumbled on the ensuing possession and Highlands capitalized.

It would be that kind of dominating night for the Bluebirds as the rolled to a 55-14 victory in their final tune-up before the playoffs on a misty Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. Highlands finished the regular season 8-2 for the first time since the 2014 Class 4A state championship team did it.

The 55 points is a season-high for the Bluebirds. They have outscored opponents, 359-129 on the season for averages of just under 36-13 per game.

Highlands recovered four Rebel fumbles. Senior Alex Starkey at linebacker and Ben Sisson at defensive end recovered two each. Starkey recovered one in the end zone with 2:23 left in the first quarter to put the Bluebirds up 28-0.

"When the ball was on the ground, we got it," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We spend a lot of time working on that kind of stuff. It's just being aware of the situation, playing fast and having some urgency. We did a pretty good job of putting ourselves in position to get some points early, get a comfortable lead and be able to go from there."

That came after a Boone County interception. The Rebels picked off two Highlands passes. Senior Derrious Jerry had one and senior Trevor Miller had the other pick.

Highlands racked up 304 yards on 47 plays for an average of between six and seven yards per play with 188 coming on the ground and 116 through the air. The Bluebirds also had 16 first downs, converted 1-of-5 on third down for 20 percent and 2-of-3 on fourth down for 67 percent.

"It was really awesome to see," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "I was really happy for the players because they're working so hard doing everything we asked them to do. (On Friday), they let everyone else know too."

Boone County had 162 yards of total offense on 53 plays for an average of just more than three yards per play. All the yards came on the ground. The Rebels recorded 10 first downs and converted on 4-of-10 third down tries for 40 percent.

"When their two receiver blocked down, we had to fill (the gaps) and make sure nothing got outside of the farthest man," said Jacob Brass, Highlands junior defensive back. "We had to just get low and squeeze the ends in. We also ran a lot of goal line (defense) because we knew they were going to run it straight up the middle at us."

The Rebel offense is based off the Power-I. The longest rushing play Boone County earned was 29 yards.

"We knew what they were trying to do offensively that we needed to get some penetration up front," Weinrich said. "With that mist that was coming down, the ball was going to be slick. People often think it gets wet, go under center. From what I've seen, under center is a lot more difficult in wet weather than shotgun so they were having trouble with the snaps. We got penetration and got the ball back."

Highlands senior quarterback Grady Cramer completed 12-of-18 passes for 110 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions to lead the way. Cramer and junior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth combined to throw to five different receivers.

Two of the leading receivers for Highlands in senior Nate Roberts and junior Hunter Ahlfeld did not play. But junior Ethan Houze picked up the slack with four catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Austin King added five catches for 32 yards.

Cramer and Houze could not convert on a fourth-down reception on the opening drive. But the connection happened on the second drive when Cramer found Houze for a 15-yard touchdown to put Highlands up 7-0. Later in the first quarter, Cramer found Houze in the right corner for a 23-yard touchdown to give the Bluebirds a 21-0 lead.

"We trust our coaches and our coaches trust us," Houze said. "We have each others' backs and if we keep trusting each other, great things are going to happen. We get as excited if (teammates) score a touchdown as we would. It's a brotherhood."

Hollingsworth ended up leading the Bluebirds with one carry for a 52-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. That gave Highlands a 55-7 advantage before Boone County senior Jantje Wingo returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to make the final score. Hollingsworth also completed both passes for six yards.

Sophomore Joe Buten scored on both carries for a total of 38 yards for the Bluebirds. His first one came with 9:26 left in the first quarter off another Rebel fumble. The second one came with just 10:42 left in the second quarter. Senior placekicker Nick Bowman hit his fifth of six point-after touchdown tries to put the Bluebirds up 35-0.

Highlands hit the running clock with just 4:18 left in the second quarter. Junior Brycen Huddleston returned a punt 47 yards for a touchdown. Huddleston has also returned three kickoffs for a touchdown this year.

Highlands senior running back Cooper Schwalbach broke free for a 29-yard run on the first possession. But the Rebels held him to just six yards after that. Defenses have keyed on him all season.

But junior running backs Wes Bowling and Tyler Brune picked up some of the slack. Bowling rushed for 38 yards on three carries and a touchdown. That touchdown run of two yards gave the Bluebirds a 48-0 lead.

"Anytime those guys can play a varsity game on a Friday, it is huge for us," Deaton said. "It's getting them in the situation so that the next time when they are in the situation, they're able to handle it. It's not too big for them. Also, it is great to get them on film because (Saturday), when we watch film, they can see what mistakes they made. The most improvements are made after a football game." 

Brune had two carries for 16 yards. Brune could not underestimate the importance of trusting teammates on running plays.

"It feels really good to be out there," Brune said. "You just have to do the best you can every play. You have to strategically run the ball. You can't just (try to) be independent the entire time."

Junior linebacker Logan Webster saw action at defense on varsity for the first time this year. He has played some on special teams this season.

"I really just try to do my best," Webster said. "I try to work hard in practice and strive to eventually start. It's always a really big opportunity when a guy like me get to go under those lights. (Varsity players) are definitely a lot bigger, stronger. It's nothing I usually go against. But I trust my teammates. If we all do our jobs, it doesn't matter how big they are, we'll be able to make plays." 

Boone County scored its two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Junior Jerry Cortez scored from a yard out to make it 48-7 Bluebirds. Cortez finished with 140 yards rushing on 30 carries and that score for an average of between four and five yards per carry. 

Highlands will take on the third-place Madison Southern Eagles (2-8 overall) from District 6 in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Box Score:

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