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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Highlands travels to Danville to take on undefeated Boyle County

History on Line as Bluebirds Travel to Danville

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior defensive back Jason Noe and the Bluebirds secondary will have a huge challenge Friday defending Boyle County senior wide receiver/defensive back Reese Smith. Smith, a West Virginia University commit, leads the Rebels with 19 catches for 538 yards and eight touchdowns.
History looms on the horizon for the Highlands Bluebirds football team.

The next victory for the Bluebirds will be the 900th in school history. They could become the second program in the country to hit that mark behind the Valdosta (Georgia) Wildcats. Highlands is 899-253-26 in 105 seasons and Valdosta stands 930-233-34.

But to achieve that feat, Highlands (4-1 overall) will have to do it in a very tough place to win Friday when the Bluebirds travel to Danville to face the undefeated Boyle County Rebels (5-0). Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Boyle County's Rebel Field. Highlands owns 23 state championships in school history and Boyle County has eight with the last one coming in Class 3A two seasons ago.

"I honestly don't think I've heard the guys talk about 900 wins. But we've brought it up a couple times because it's really cool," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "It'd be a mistake not to talk about it. It's such an unbelievable achievement for a high school football program to have. We're going to talk about it when it's appropriate, but in practice and getting ready for the game, we're going to focus on the game. With the change in the way they do the playoffs, getting a win over a team like Boyle County could do a lot for us not only for the confidence side, but also for the computer side. It's a really important game."

Boyle County enters the game off a 71-28 shellacking of the defending Class 2A state champion Christian Academy of Louisville Centurions in Danville. The Rebels have outscored opponents, 265-42 on the year for an average of 53 to between eight and nine points per game.

Highlands comes into the game off a 27-0 shutout of the Ryle Raiders. The Bluebirds have outscored opponents, 172-51 on the season for averages of between 34 and 35 points to just more than 10 points per game. Both teams have two shutouts on the season.

The teams have no common opponents this year. The five opponents of each team have combined for losing records. The five Highlands opponents are a combined 8-13 with Ryle, Simon Kenton and Scott all posting 3-2 marks.

The five Boyle County opponents are a combined 9-16. Two teams have winning records. Mercer County is 4-1 and CAL is 3-2.

Both teams have played one 0-5 opponent. That is the Campbell County Camels for Highlands and the Louisville Iroquois Raiders for the Rebels. The Camels have been shut out four straight games and have only scored 13 points on the season.

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The match-up to watch could be the Highlands 3-5 defense against the Boyle County offense. The Bluebirds have allowed 738 yards rushing and 442 yards passing on the season for averages of between 147 and 148 per game rushing and between 88 and 89 yards per game passing and a total average of 236 yards per game.

"It will be a good test for us to going against Highlands defense as (the Bluebirds) are by far the best defense that we have faced this year," said Chuck Smith, Boyle County Head Coach. "They play extremely hard and physical. We will need to be at our best to have any success at all."

The Rebels feature two Division I recruits in senior running back/defensive back Landen Bartleston (a Notre Dame commit) and senior 5-foot-11-inch, 175-pound wide receiver/defensive back Reese Smith (a West Virginia commit). Bartleson left the game against CAL with an injury on the first drive of the game. Bartleson has 29 carries for 247 yards and eight touchdowns for an average of just more than 8.5 yards per carry.

The quarterback for the Rebels is senior Reed Lanter. Lanter has completed 49-of-65 passes for 942 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception on the season. Resse Smith is the leading wide receiver with 19 catches for 538 yards and eight touchdowns.

"They don't make mistakes. They have a lot of speed," Weinrich said. "The have great coaches. They've always had a great scheme. It's so simple. You can go back and watch some of our 2003 and 2004 film and it's the exact same stuff. They just execute it and they know exactly where it's supposed to be. They're just so efficient at what they do."

The Rebels line up a number of different ways in the Spread including the use of two tight ends and three wide receivers. Boyle County did try to run some motion against CAL, but penalties derailed the effort. Junior running back/linebacker Will McDaniel leads the Rebels with 306 yards rushing on 31 carries and four touchdowns to go with four touchdowns for an average of just under 10 yards per carry. Senior running back/linebacker Andrew Sacco is third with 30 carries for 218 yards and four touchdowns for an average of just more than seven yards per carry.

The Rebels have 12 players with receptions on the season. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Cameron Yates is second yardage-wise with 131 yards on six catches and a touchdown. Senior offensive and defensive lineman Jackson Lakes leads the Boyle County offensive line. Like Knoxville Catholic, Boyle County has the athletes to spread out the Highlands defense.

The Highlands defensive line has done well getting off blocks and creating havoc in the backfield all season. That has allowed the linebackers to fill in gaps or stay back in coverage. It also helps that the Highlands defense faces the Spread in practice daily.

"It definitely allows us kind of to understand the bases (of the Spread), but we don't really get the experience with the athletes that they have even though we have amazing athletes," said Brycen Huddleston, Highlands senior linebacker. "It's just so different compared to the people we're going to be going against who run 4.3s (second 40-yard dashes) and things like that. But I'm not really going to stress about that because our defense is relentless. We know we need to get to the ball because we're aggressive. Everyone wants to make a tackle."

Highlands and Boyle County met in the Class AAA state championship games in 2003 and 2004. The Rebels won the last of five straight state championship games in 2003, 44-10 in Louisville before the Bluebirds stopped the run with a 22-6 win in 2004. Weinrich was in his second and third years as the Defensive Coordinator under former Highlands Head Coach Dale Mueller during those seasons.

"We spent the whole off-season (between those seasons) just watching (the Rebels) on film," Weinrich recalled. "That's when you realized it's just about lining up right, getting off blocks and playing really fast. They set that standard a long time ago and we've tried to emulate that the best we can. This week is no bigger than any other week. But it's extremely important."

The Bluebirds come in at plus-13 on the season in the turnover category with 18 takeaways and just five giveaways. Huddleston leads the Bluebirds with 19 solo and 19 assisted tackles for a total of 38 including three sacks and seven total tackles for a loss. Senior defensive lineman Zach Lewin is second with 11 solo and seven assisted tackles for a total of 18 tackles with eight for a loss including four sacks.

Highlands has intercepted 11 passes and recovered seven fumbles. Senior defensive back Jacob Brass leads the Bluebirds with five picks to go with 11 solo and four assisted tackles including two for a loss. Junior linebacker Mason South leads Highlands with two fumble recoveries.

The Highlands Spread offense hopes to improve in a hurry for this game. The Bluebirds have rushed for 638 yards and passed for 1,012 on the season for averages of between 127 and 128 rushing and between 202 and 203 passing and a grand total of 330 yards per game. One huge positive is the Bluebirds have not turned the ball over the last two games.

"We have a huge emphasis on tucking the ball away and eliminating mistakes as far as turnovers go," said Sam Umberg, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "The last couple games have been fantastic. We are extremely proud of the guys and we have to keep that going."

The Bluebirds did take advantage of short field position against Ryle, but have struggled to move the ball consistently outside the Campbell County game. Senior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth has completed 69-of-124 passes for 909 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions and rushed for 241 yards on 54 carries and three touchdowns for an average of between four and five yards per carry.

The Bluebirds have the athletes to spread out the 4-4 Boyle County defense. Senior wide receiver Hunter Ahlfeld has 230 yards receiving on 15 catches and five touchdowns with senior wide receiver Jack Delagrange going for 17 catches for 182 yards and two scores. Senior wide receiver Joey Deschler has added 13 catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns.

"If Collin doesn't have a lot of time, we're going to have to make sure we get open as fast as possible with our short routes because if we don't, it will be like last week," Ahlfeld said. "He had less than two seconds to throw and we didn't even look for the ball yet."

The Highlands skill position players have made things happen when the offensive line has given them time. The Bluebirds had to adjust the blocking schemes against Ryle to keep the Raiders from disrupting plays in the backfield.

"This past week, we did have some problems with our protection, but it all came down to a lack of trust in the scheme," Umberg said. "That's about going back to the basics with them and trust the process, trust the plan and trust what the coaches are telling you to do. That will put you in positions to be successful."

Highlands does have a depth advantage in this game. With just 65 players listed on the roster including freshmen, the Rebels have players going both directions. Coach Smith said he hopes the weather will not be too hot Friday. The Weather Channel is calling for partially cloudy with a high of 89 and low of 68 in Danville this Friday.

Coach Smith said the Rebels defense has been okay, but not great. Senior lineman Wilson Kelly leads the Rebel defense with 18 solo and 11 assisted tackles for 29 including nine tackles for a loss. Senior tight end/linebacker Ezarious Roller is second with 18 solo and eight assisted tackles for 26 including three for a loss. The Rebels did allow some big plays against CAL off defensive breakdowns.

Boyle County has six fumble recoveries and four interceptions on the season to go with 36 tackles for a loss including two sacks. The Rebels have returned two fumbles for touchdowns.

"We will need to play much better against Highlands or we will be in trouble," Coach Smith said. "Highlands has a very balanced offense with a great QB directing their attack."

Highlands is 4-2 all-time against the Rebels. The teams last met in 2012 at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. The Bluebirds won that meeting, 52-31.

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