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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Highlands 2019 Football Schedule Features Four New Opponents

Bluebirds to face Tennessee Opponent for First Time

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior Wes Bowling waits during warm-ups before the region championship against Covington Catholic in November.
With the new scheduling cycle came four new opponents for the Highlands Bluebirds football team this fall.

The most notable thing in this cycle is the Bluebirds will take on a team from Tennessee for the first time in school history. Outside of Ohio and Kentucky, Highlands has also played teams from Indiana and Florida in the past.

Highlands will take on the Knoxville Catholic Fighting Irish in the Pigskin Bowl at Corbin on Saturday, Aug. 31. Knoxville Catholic finished 9-4 this past season driving all the way to Tennessee's Division I, Class 5A state semifinals before losing 24-19 to Knoxville Central. The Fighting Irish have three state championships in school history including the Division I, Class 5A crown in 2017.

Tennessee has two divisions. Division I is for the public and private high schools that don't offer scholarships and Division II is for the private schools that do offer scholarships. Class 5A is the second-largest class in Division I in Tennessee.

Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich said he developed a good relationship with Corbin Head Coach Justin Haddix, a former Breathitt County and Western Kentucky University quarterback. Haddix and staff came to watch Highlands play at Lexington Catholic last fall. The two began talking about playing in the Pigskin Bowl.

Barre3 Ft. Thomas. Located in Fort Thomas Plaza. 
Highlands remained in Class 5A, District 5 for this four-year cycle. Defending Class 5A runner-up Covington Catholic stayed in the same district and the district added Boone County, Cooper and Conner. Dixie Heights moved up to Class 6A. Highlands kept non-district games with Ryle, Campbell County and Simon Kenton and added Scott High. The Bluebirds last played Scott in 2010 and Conner in 2006.

"A lot of it was out of necessity," Weinrich said. "There really wasn't much left in Northern Kentucky. We've done bowls before. It's just a good situation. You get to play two different teams in back-to-back years. That adds some excitement to it. It's pretty cool playing teams from Tennessee. I didn't even realize we hadn't played teams from Tennessee before so that was exciting."

Road trips are nothing new for Highlands. The longest road trip last year was to Lexington Catholic. In 2017, the Bluebirds ventured down to Greenwood. They've gone to Warren Central, Paducah Tilghman and John Hardin in the past.

"There's something about being on the bus longer than 10-minute rides," Weinrich said. "It is nice to leave school at 5 p.m., be at the other school in 20 minutes, play and get home right away. There's also something about getting on the bus for a couple of hours with everybody and just having some time as coaches to talk. You don't have to go anywhere else. It's just a really cool experience and I think it helps bring things together as a whole team."

Highlands also managed to put Boyle County back on the schedule. The Bluebirds and Rebels last met in 2012. The Rebels finished 13-1 last year losing 21-0 at Corbin in the Class 3A state semifinals after winning the Class 3A state championship in 2017. That will be the second-longest road trip on Sept. 27 down to Danville.

"They're obviously a team every year that is in the discussion as one of the top teams in the state," Weinrich said. "It's such a cool atmosphere to go down there and play. You know what you're getting when you play them. That's a well-coached team. It really keeps you focused in the off-season."

In addition to Dixie Heights, Highlands did not renew contracts with Lexington Catholic, Scott County and Greenwood. The Bluebirds played the home-and-home series against the Gators to make up for Grant County leaving the district the past two years. But the Highlands players love seeing new opponents on the schedule.

"Facing new teams helps us a bunch for the playoffs because teams we play in the playoffs are not going to be the people that we usually play," said Hunter Ahlfeld, Highlands junior wide receiver. "If you see the Highlands teams that won state, they used to play teams that were farther down south. They pushed us more in the season and just showed us who we could really be toward the end of the season."

The last regular season game will be at Cooper on Oct. 25. Highlands has opened the season against the Jaguars the past four years. The Bluebirds will then have their bye week.

"There's a lot of people doing that," Weinrich said. "With your last district game being week 10, it's really hard to find a game in Week 11 as a game you want to play getting ready for the playoffs. There's not a lot of people willing to play that week unless it just didn't work out with the rest of their schedule."

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For the first time since 2014, Highlands will have two scrimmages. The first one takes place Friday, Aug. 9 at defending Class 6A champion Louisville Male. Weinrich said the Male scrimmage will mostly consist of work with the freshman and junior varsity teams. The varsity will work on situational things as opposed to a game-like scrimmage. Weinrich said it will be more of a glorified practice and there will be no special teams plays.

Louisville Ballard will come to Fort Thomas on Aug. 17. Highlands is coming off a 10-3 season that ended in the region championship with a 36-0 defeat at Covington Catholic.

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