Thursday, October 25, 2018

Highlands Looks to Move to 8-2 Against Boone County

Bluebirds Seek First 8-2 Regular Season Since 2014

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands sophomore offensive lineman Seth Mullikin (70), Trevor Harms (74) and senior offensive lineman Will Gastright (58) block for Highlands junior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth (with ball) and junior running back Tyler Brune (20) against Greenwood on Friday. Highlands concludes the regular season against Boone County on Friday at 7 p.m. at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
When the weather turns colder at this time of the year, Highlands Bluebirds football Head Coach Brian Weinrich can't emphasize enough the importance of hydration and hygiene.

The Highlands Bluebirds (7-2 overall) will conclude the regular season against the Boone County Rebels (2-7) at the comfort of David Cecil Memorial Stadium and the turf field on Friday at 7 p.m. They knocked off the Rebels, 36-12 on a rainy, cold day in Florence on Boone County's grass field last year. There is currently rain the forecast with temperatures between 51 and 42 degrees.

"We try to get them to do that all the time, but at this time of the year with everything that's going around, (It's vital to) just simply take your stuff home and wash it," Weinrich said. "Also at this time of year, you don't hydrate like you should because you're not hot all the time. Then all of a sudden, you see guys cramping all over the field. You have to drink when you're not thirsty."



Highlands has one more win than last year and is seeking its first 8-2 regular season since the 2014 Class 4A state championship season. The visiting Rebels have two wins in a season for the first time since 2011 when they lost to Scott County in the Class 6A state semifinals.

Boone County beat Covington Holmes, 49-0 on Sept. 7 and winless Dixie Heights, 28-27 two weeks later holding off the Colonels on a two-point conversion late in the game. The Rebels have gone 6-69 over the last seven seasons. Opponents have outscored them, 263-156 for averages of just more than 29-17 per game.

On the other hand, Highlands has outscored opponents, 304-115 for averages of just less than 34-13 per game. The 3-5 Bluebirds defense has given up 1,061 yards rushing and 1,032 passing for averages of just under 118 rushing and 115 passing per game.

Highlands continues to do a good job putting pressure on opposing offenses with 15 sacks to go with 10 fumble recoveries and 14 interceptions. Highlands senior linebacker Jackson Hagedorn has three interceptions, one fumble recovery and three sacks. Hagedorn has returned an interception and fumble for touchdowns. Senior linebacker Alex Starkey also has three sacks.

Junior defensive back Jacob Brass returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown against Greenwood. Brass and senior defensive back Casey Greene have three interceptions with junior linebacker Mason Schwalbach and junior defensive lineman Conner Zell recovering two fumbles each.

Junior linebacker Brycen Huddleston finished a number of runs in the Greenwood backfield and junior defensive lineman Zach Lewin stuffed a sweep for a loss. Huddleston also returned the second half-kickoff for a touchdown.

"Whenever defense makes big plays, it gives you the momentum for the rest of the game," said Bailey Armstrong, Highlands senior defensive back. "So we have to stay focused because it's the most important time of the year. Whenever people make big plays, you have to celebrate and move on. Play the next play." 

Highlands will face a Power-I Boone County offense. The quarterback is senior Zach Grau and their leading rushers are sophomore Cauvey Vastine and senior John Mark Shutt.

"It creates some alignment challenges and uses different techniques that you don't see on a week-to-week basis," Weinrich said. "Just the whole angles, especially the way (defensive backs) have to attack the line of scrimmage, you can get lost coming in. The ball will bounce out on the back side or front side."

On the other side, the Highland spread offense showed more signs of greatness last week. The Bluebirds have thrown for 1,633 yards and run for 1,259 for averages of just more than 181 passing and just under 140 rushing.

"I think the guys we have out there are really starting to understand the offense," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "They're getting better each week at the little stuff nobody really sees and it's really starting to pay some big dividends for us in games on Friday."

When given time, the Highlands skill position players make things happen. Senior running back Cooper Schwalbach still leads the Bluebirds with 687 yards rushing on 125 carries and nine touchdowns for an average of about 5.5 yards per carry. Sophomore Joe Buten has started to come around lately with 407 yards on 57 carries and six touchdowns for an average of just more than seven yards per carry.

Highlands senior quarterback Grady Cramer has completed 123-of-217 passes for 1,535 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. Senior Nate Roberts leads all Highlands receivers with 34 catches for 586 yards and eight touchdowns. But a number of other guys have had big catches this year such as senior Austin King and junior Hunter Ahlfeld. King has 29 catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns and Ahlfeld has 23 catches for 394 yards and five touchdowns.

Defenses are allowed to stunt before the ball is snapped. But Highlands junior offensive lineman Dylan Turner said footwork is a big key against that. Boone County runs a 4-3 defense led by linebacker Shutt and senior Trevor Miller.

"It can be kind of confusing at times when defenses move around," Turner said. "But as long as we step the right way, just look in our gaps and make sure we're doing our job the way we're supposed to do it, we should be able to pick up those types of things. As long as we don't freak out when they see something different, we should be fine."


Deaton said a big area of focus in practice this week is not turning the ball over. The Bluebirds lost a crucial fumble and threw two interceptions in the loss to Covington Catholic. They lost a fumble against Greenwood.

"Those have really hurt us throughout the year," Deaton said. "We're getting better each week, which is the goal and if we have zero turnovers, we are really, really good."

Highlands is 37-3 against Boone County all-time. The Bluebirds and Rebels have played each other four straight years and will be in the same Class 5A, District 5 with Cooper, Conner and CovCath the next four seasons.

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