The Bluebirds (2-1 overall) came into the rivalry game with the Campbell County Camels (0-3) in Fort Thomas on Friday with a good chance of one and accomplished it with a convincing 47-0 win. Highlands last shut out an opponent exactly 23 months ago by the exact same score on Oct. 6, 2017 against Dixie Heights at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
|Need a roofer? Call Matt!|
The opportunistic Highlands defense did not create any turnovers like the first two games. But after making some adjustments, the Bluebirds held the Campbell County Spread offense to just 56 yards on 47 plays for an average of about 1.2 yards per play and just four first downs.
Campbell County has struggled offensively this year scoring just 13 points in three games. Covington Catholic also shut out the Camels last week holding the Camels to minus-37 yards in total offense.
The Camels moved the ball to the Highlands 32 on its first possession. But the Bluebirds held on fourth down.
"We just had to read our keys and stop them off the ball up front," said Zach Lewin, Highlands senior defensive lineman. "The outside takes care of the rest. If you don't break down and get them (near the line) then they're gone."
Campbell County opened up some running lanes on that first drive. The leading rusher entering the game for the Camels was junior running back Crosley Gray. Sophomore quarterback Preston Agee (who wore number 11) and junior quarterback Justin Little (who wore number 16) also had carries in the game.
Gray had just 26 yards rushing on 12 carries and Little ran for 10 yards. Little and Agee combined to go 0-for-7 on pass attempts. Weinrich said the Camels had some success getting out on the perimeter in their first two games and expressed concerns about them finding some things that may work in practice this week. One tight end the Camels used was junior Derek Minning.
"Securing the edge is everything," said John Kohler, Highlands senior defensive back. "You can't let anything get outside of you. We had seen on film they didn't really have a tight end package like that. All of a sudden in the game, they put tight ends on the edge pretty much all the time so we made an adjustment in the middle of the game then we just didn't let anything outside pretty much going fast, having good feet, coming downhill, all that good stuff. We all trust what we're doing here."
Both teams finished 2-for-4 on fourth-down attempts. But Highlands converted 3-of-8 for 38 percent on third down compared to 1-for-11 for nine percent for Campbell County.
"They ran a completely different offense than they had all year," Weinrich said. "We practiced with what we thought they were going to do. It took us a series to settle down and adjust with our alignments and everything to what they were doing. I'm proud of our guys for being able to do that on the run during the middle of a series. It's having that base scheme, the guys understanding their roles and being able to apply it to anything that they see."
Campbell County did move the ball to the Highlands 22 in the second quarter after junior linebacker Wes Barth picked off a Highlands pass at the five and returned it 73 yards. But a penalty pushed the Camels back and they did not recover from it. Campbell County had six penalties for 60 yards compared for four penalties for 55 yards against Highlands.
Highlands senior linebacker Brycen Huddleston led the team with three solo tackles, eight assisted tackles and a tackle for a loss with senior defensive back Max Guetle had three solo and one assisted tackles. Lewin had two tackles for a loss to go with two solo and two assisted tackles. Senior linebacker Mason Schwalbach and senior defensive lineman Griffin Welsch had one tackle for a loss and one sack each. Senior defensive back Jacob Brass and sophomore linebacker Mason Welsch had two solo tackles and two assisted tackles each.
On the other side, Highlands moved the ball well out of its spread offense. The Bluebirds garnered 434 yards offensively on 54 plays for an average of just more than eight yards per play and 20 first downs. The balanced Bluebirds passed for 267 yards and ran for 167 against the 3-3 Stack Camel defense.
"I thought the rhythm was good," said Sam Umberg, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "We're still not even close. But I still think we took steps forward and progressed. We're spreading the ball out and we had a lot of guys touching the ball, which is even better. We have the athletes. We need to use them that way."
Highlands saw nine different players carry the ball and nine different players catch the ball. Highlands worked on wide receiver jet sweeps late in the game. Senior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth completed 15-of-22 passes for 262 yards, three touchdown passes and an interception.
"It's great. It's something that I've worked for my whole life," Welch said. "I couldn't have done it without the people that blocked. Collin put the ball there on the first two touchdowns then the wide receiver blocked their tails off for me to make it easy to get in the end zone. We go fast and that's what we're good at. We get (defenses) flustered."
Highlands scored on its first possession this game thanks to a huge 4th-and-long conversion. Hollingsworth threw an inside route to senior Hunter Ahlfeld. Ahlfeld broke some tackles and followed his teammates down to the Campbell County 5 for a 29-yard gain. Two plays later, Highlands junior left-handed quarterback Jake Fahlbusch hit senior wide receiver Connor Noon for a 5-yard touchdown to give Highlands the only points needed to win the game with 9:03 left in the first quarter.
"It just showed how much it meant to us, how mentally tough we were coming into the game and how determined we were," Umberg said. "That was a prime example right there. We got behind the sticks early after that first down with that penalty. But then when we converted 4th-and-long like that, this just gives you all the momentum and really gives you a lot of confidence."
Ahlfeld led Highlands with four catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. Noon had three catches. Welch, senior running back Tyler Brune and senior wide receivers Jack Delagrange and Adam Weyer had two catches each. Delagrange had 37 yards receiving and Brune also led Highlands rushing the ball with nine carries for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Highlands senior kicker and linebacker Brennan Haigis hit all six point-after-touchdown kicks and a 45-yard field goal as time expired in the third quarter. That field goal made the final score.
Highlands added some razzle-dazzle to the offensive show. On one play, senior wide receiver Adam Weyer caught the ball to the left then tossed it back to Brune for a big play.
Highlands led 14-0 after the first quarter. With 1:14 left in the quarter, Hollingsworth hit Welch for a 33-yard touchdown. Highlands set up the touchdown when junior wide receiver Patrick Clukey had a 20-yard catch-and-run from Hollingsworth.
Ahlfeld scored his lone touchdown with 8:47 left in the second quarter from 10 yards out to put Highlands up 21-0. Ahlfeld had a huge catch on the drive as did Weyer. Junior running back Joe Buten had some nice runs on the drive as well.
Welch then scored his second touchdown with 5:01 left in the first half from five yards out. Highlands senior wide receiver Ethan Houze had a nice catch on the drive and Brune a crucial run. Highlands led 28-0 at that point.
A bad snap led to a safety on the next Campbell County possession. Schwalbach tackled Agee in the end zone to put the Bluebirds up 30-0 with 4:11 left in the first half.
Brune dove in from a yard out with 1:03 left in the first half to make the halftime score 37-0 and enforce the running clock. The Bluebirds employed the full house backfield on the play.
Highlands scored one touchdown in the third quarter. Welch took an inside hand-off from Hollingsworth and ran 20 yards for the touchdown with 7:26 left in the third quarter.
Highlands goes to Simon Kenton (2-1) on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m. in Independence.