The rival Campbell County Camels (0-2 overall) come into Fort Thomas on Friday against the Bluebirds (1-1) trying to figure some things out in all aspects of the game. Game time is 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
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In losses to Newport Central Catholic (29-13) and Covington Catholic (49-0) at home, the Camels have been outgained, 642-147 in total offense for averages of 321-73.5 yards per game. That breaks down to averages of 180.5-34 on the ground and 140.5-39.5 passing.
In the home loss to Covington Catholic, senior linebacker/tight end and Notre Dame commit Michael Mayer and the rest of the rugged Colonel defense held the Camels to negative-37 in total offense. The Camels rushed the ball 19 times for minus-48 yards for an average of about minus-2.5 per carry and completed just 1-of-11 passes for 11 yards and an interception.
"We have to do that every week - just focus on ourselves and get better at the things we need to fix," said Jason Noe, Highlands junior defensive back. "We can't take Campbell County lightly even though (the Camels have) been struggling because if we go into it with a bad mentality, it could turn out a bad way."
Highlands comes into the game 1-1 following a tight 31-28 loss to Knoxville (Tennessee) Catholic in the Cumberland Falls Pigskin Classic in Corbin. The Fighting Irish scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:59 left in the game.
The Highlands Spread offense has put up 230 yards rushing and 442 passing for a grand total of 672 yards and averages of 115 per game rushing and 221 passing. Highlands Offensive Coordinator Sam Umberg has a magic number of plays he'd like to see the offense run and the Bluebirds have not hit it yet, although the number rose considerably in the second game. They ran 78 in the loss against KnoxCath and 62 in the 42-13 win at Scott to open the season.
"If we hit our goal, I think we win (vs. KnoxCath)," Umberg said. "If we make that goal the emphasis, that's more important than anything else. It's going to be tough to beat us."
Highlands senior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth leads the Bluebirds in the rushing and passing categories. Hollingsworth has completed 26-of-48 passes for 344 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed for 94 yards on 32 carries and two touchdowns averaging just under three yards per carry.
Hollingsworth started to scramble some against Knoxville Catholic, but the Fighting Irish closed the gap quickly and prevented him from reaching the first down on some plays. That's where the offensive line hopes to improve this week.
"It's not necessarily the footwork, but the small things we're missing like a little block here and there that would have (the skill player) dashing around, but instead is just a two-yard gain because of one missed step," said Jackson Curry, Highlands senior offensive lineman. "If you get the right step, it's a 15-yard gain. If we clean that up, we should be a dominant offense."
A number of senior wide receivers have made plays for the Bluebirds. Jack Delagrange has the most catches with eight for 69 yards and two touchdowns and Adam Weyer has the most yards at 100 on four receptions.
Highlands could see two key skill players return this week. Senior wide receiver Ethan Houze hopes to suit up for the first time Friday and junior running back Joe Buten hopes to return after no playing last week.
Umberg has said success on first and second down determines success on third down. The team goal is between 46 and 48 percent conversion on third down. Highlands converted 6-of-15 on third down against KnoxCath for 40 percent. That improved from 2-for-9 for 22 percent against Scott.
"We've preached it from day one not only as an offensive unit, but as a whole," Umberg said. "The little things add up to everything. The call a football game a game of inches for a reason because. It's the tiny things that end up being the difference makers. This past week, we learned that a lot offensively."
Campbell County runs the 3-3 Stack defense under second-year Head Coach Mike Woolf. The Camels are led there by seniors Casey Rauch at tight end and linebacker and Tyler Rauch at offensive line and defensive tackle. The Camels have just one takeaway on the season with an interception by senior Josh Pond.
The Highlands 3-5 defense has allowed 487 yards rushing and 283 passing for a total of 770 yards. That's an average of 385 yards per game, but 544 of that came against the talented Fighting Irish Spread-Option offense.
Highlands forced KnoxCath into some 3rd-and-Long situations. KnoxCath did have some skill players get a step on the defense. But the catches did not occur.
"It doesn't matter if you're playing Little League or in the Super Bowl," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "If you can get the other team to 3rd-and-Long, you have a chance. If you flip it to the other side offensively, you want to stay out of 3rd-and-Long because now, the defense can dictate what they want to do. That's the key every week and will be a key again this week."
Highlands is a plus-seven in the turnover department with seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Senior defensive back Jacob Brass leads the Bluebirds with three picks. Senior linebacker Mason Schwalbach has two tackles for a loss. The turnovers have helped the Highlands offense gain short field position.
Junior running back Crosley Gray leads Campbell County with 85 yards rushing on 19 carries and a touchdown for an average of nearly 4.5 per carry. But no other Camel has more than three yards rushing.
"They have some pretty good speed that they can get on the edges," Weinrich said. "They've had some success with that. Anytime a team is struggling like that, you get a little bit nervous because they're going to have to find what they're identity is. I feel like they've tried to do a little bit of everything the last couple of weeks. If they can focus on one thing, they're going to get better at it. We have to be ready for everything."
The Campbell County quarterback is junior Justin Little. Little has completed 9-of-31 passes for 79 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. Four Camels have two receptions each.
Highlands is 55-10 all-time against Campbell County. The Bluebirds have won six of the seven meetings when the series resumed in 2013. Prior to that, the teams had not played since 2004.