|Bluebirds Face Improved Raiders|
|PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands senior linebacker Mason Schwalbach makes a move in the win at Simon Kenton on Friday.|
The Highlands defense has displayed that for the most part this season in the 3-1 start. The offense hopes to see even more of it this week when the improved Ryle Raiders come to town with the same record Friday. Game time is 7 p.m. at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
"I thought we took a big step last week," said Sam Umberg, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "But we're really honing in on the little things like we do each and every day. It's the little things that will make our offense really get going. We haven't hit on all cylinders yet. But I do think we're really close."
|Now open on Memorial Parkway!|
Highlands has outscored opponents, 145-51 for averages of just more than 36 to just under 13 per game. No Kentucky opponent has scored more than 13 points against the Bluebirds. Highlands enters the game off a 28-7 win at Simon Kenton.
The Highlands defense made Simon Kenton drive the field and picked off two passes to end drives. Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich said that will again be a key this week.
"You have to make (opponents) make mistakes," Weinrich said. "There is a time to take some chances and press the issue. A lot of that is dictated by the situation and personnel on both sides of the ball. But you really want to make them have to be perfect and drive the ball so we have to be gap-sound have great pursuit. You have to have great angles."
The Highlands offense ran a season-high 81 plays last week. They also saw senior Tyler Brune rush for a season-high 89 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown for an average of just under six yards per carry. The Bluebirds pulled away from Simon Kenton with two touchdowns in the second half following two turnovers.
Highlands has rushed for 547 yards and passed for 902 yards this season for averages of 136.8 and 225.5 per game respectively. Senior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth has completed 60-of-106 passes for 799 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
Teams have to account for a number of players in the Highlands Spread offense. Senior wide receiver Jack Delagrange has the most catches with 15 for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Hunter Ahlfeld has 12 catches for 195 yards and three touchdowns with senior wide receiver Joey Deschler recording 12 catches for 195 yards and three scores. Sophomore wide receiver Jacob Welch has burst onto the scene with four catches for 54 yards and three touchdowns. But the wide receivers are just as important to the development of the offense as other positions.
"It's just going hard on every single play. It's nothing we can't fix," said Ethan Houze, Highlands senior wide receiver. "It's about running better routes and blocking better. We practice hard. We're going to show up eventually."
Joe Buten back this week after he did not play against Simon Kenton.
|Over 50 years experience in NKY. Call now, mention FTM. (859) 287-2499.|
The Raiders come into the game on a three-game winning streak following a 46-0 blanking of Boone County. Ryle lost 37-0 at Covington Catholic to open the season but proceeded to beat the three county rivals to claim the unofficial Boone County schools championship.
Ryle has outscored opponents, 100-63 for averages of 25-just under 16 points per game. The Raiders have rushed for 644 yards, passed for 523 and allowed 190 yards rushing and 486 passing. Ryle averages 161 yards rushing and just under 131 passing out of the spread offense. Teams are averaging 47.5 yards rushing and 121.5 passing against the combination of 4-2 and 4-4 Raider defenses.
Ryle has recovered three fumbles this season and intercepted six passes. Senior defensive backs Johnathan Coker and Ryan Planck have two interceptions each for the Raiders. Senior linebacker Dillon Talmon leads Ryle with 31 tackles including 6.5 for a loss and four quarterback sacks. This will be a challenge for the Highlands offensive line.
"They play extremely hard," Umberg said. "They do some line games up front as far as their twisting and stunting. They have a great blitz package as far as what they're doing in shifting their line late. That's what we have to account for."
Ryle already has just one more win than last year's 2-9 campaign. The Raiders put junior Bradyn Lyons at quarterback and moved last year's quarterback against Highlands in senior Keegan Stanken to wide receiver. Lyons has completed 31-of-62 passes for 464 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions.
Senior Kyle England is the leading rusher for the Raiders with 531 yards on 72 carries and 11 touchdowns. England averages just more than seven yards per carry. England has just more than 64 percent of the team's rushing attempts. Weinrich remembers seeing England at a middle school track meet standing out years ago.
"We have to keep (England) uncomfortable with where people are coming from," Weinrich said. "He's really progressed and turned into a great tailback. You can see he's more patient running the ball. He has a better burst than he had last year when he hits the hole. If you're off a gap, he'll make you pay. He just seems like he's a more complete running back this year."
Junior Connor Lee has given the Raiders diversity. Lee leads Ryle with 210 yards receiving on 10 catches and a touchdown. Lee has also rushed for 112 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.
But the Highlands 3-5 defense has allowed just 678 yards rushing and 405 passing. Those average out to just more than 151 rushing and 101 passing.
The Bluebirds have picked off nine passes and recovered five fumbles defensively. Senior Jacob Brass has four interceptions and junior defensive back Jason Noe has two.
The Bluebirds have 24 tackles for a loss and five quarterback sacks this year. Senior linebacker Brycen Huddleston has 25 tackles including five for a loss and a sack. Senior linebacker Nelson Bibb and Brass have 11 tackles each and senior defensive back Sawyer Depp has 10. Senior defensive lineman Zach Lewin has five tackles for a loss and senior defensive lineman Griffin Welsch has two sacks.
"It's really good," said Sylvan Frazier, Highland senior defensive lineman. "I think a lot of our teammates can really rely on each other. It helps out a lot. No one feels all the pressure is on his shoulders."
The Bluebirds are 12-5 all-time against the Raiders. Highlands beat Ryle, 40-3 in Union last year after the Raiders had won three straight between 2015 and 2017 including two in Fort Thomas. The teams did not play each other in 2013 and 2014.
Highlands is two wins away from becoming the second team in the country with 900 wins in school history. The Bluebirds stand 898-253-26 entering the game.