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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Highlands-Simon Kenton Football Preview

Bluebirds Hope More Light Bulbs Come on in Independence

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands sophomore wide receiver Jacob Welch (27) runs for a touchdown in the game Friday against Campbell County while senior wide receiver Ethan Houze (6) blocks Campbell County sophomore cornerback Kyle Hoeh (10). Welch had three touchdowns on two receptions and two rushes in the 47-0 Highlands victory.
When the imaginary light bulbs come on inside the minds of teenagers, amazing things happen.

Each week, the Highlands football team's coaches have seen that with the players in practice and games. As more of them go off, bigger and better things have come together for the Bluebirds.

That will again be a key when the Bluebirds travel to Independence to face the Simon Kenton Pioneers in a battle of 2-1 teams on Friday at 7 p.m. Unlike the previous four years, the Pioneers are not undefeated coming into this match-up.



But it has not been easy for opponents to win at Chlorine B. Menefee Stadium in recent years. The Pioneers have lost just six home games including the lone defeat this year, 44-16 to Cincinnati (Ohio) Anderson two weeks ago since the start of 2012.

Both teams come into the game off wins. Highlands dominated Campbell County, 47-0 at home after a 31-28 loss to Knoxville (Tennessee) Catholic in the Cumberland Falls Pigskin Classic at Corbin and a convincing 42-13 win at Scott to open the season. Highlands has outscored opponents, 117-44 for averages of 39-between 14 and 15 points per game.

Simon Kenton has not been dominating opponents like in recent years. But the Pioneers have been finding ways to win. They ventured to the west side of Cincinnati on Friday and edged the Oak Hills Highlanders, 13-10 and opened the season with a 38-27 win over Lexington Henry Clay in the Bumblebee/Mingua Beef Jerky Showdown at Lexington Lafayette.

Opponents have outscored Simon Kenton, 81-67 for averages of 27-just more than 22 points per game. Anderson put up 616 yards of offense against the 3-4 Simon Kenton defense including 430 passing in the win in Independence. Overall, teams have gained 464 yards rushing and 622 passing against the Pioneers for averages of between 154 and 155 rushing and just more than 207 passing per game.

Simon Kenton held Oak Hills to minus-two passing. But Pioneer Head Coach Jeff Marksberry said the Highlands ran a run-based offensive scheme compared to a pass-based offense with Anderson.

The Highlands Spread offense found some more weapons in the 47-0 win over Campbell County. Sophomore wide receiver Jacob Welch had three touchdowns on four touches. Welch had two catches for 38 yards and two touchdowns and two carries for 22 yards and a touchdown.

"It really gives us an advantage," said Sam Umberg, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "It really takes the defense's option of keying on one individual. They have to account for everybody out wide."

The two Highlands left-handed quarterbacks in senior Collin Hollingsworth and junior Jake Fahlbusch have completed passes to 12 different wide receivers. One went to senior offensive lineman Dylan Turner off a deflection for four yards against Knoxville Catholic.

Highlands has passed for 709 yards and rushed for 397 for averages of 236.3 and 132.3 respectively. Hollingsworth has completed 41-of-70 passes for 606 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.


Four senior Bluebird wide receivers have more than 100 yards receiving on the season. Jack Delagrange has the most catches with 10 for 106 yards and two touchdowns and Adam Weyer has the most yards at 141 on six catches. Hunter Ahlfeld has eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns and Joey Deschler has 113 catches on seven receptions and two touchdowns.

The Highlands offensive line led by seniors Brock Huber, Max Dierig and Turner continues to improve allowing the skill players time to make plays. Hollingsworth leads the Bluebirds with 129 yards rushing on 36 carries and two touchdowns for an average of about 3.5 per carry. Senior Tyler Brune has 31 carries for 125 yards rushing and two touchdowns for an average of just more than four yards per carry.


"The key to improvement has been doing the little things better and better as the weeks go on," Dierig said. "We started off rusty, but we're really making progress."

Simon Kenton returned six starters on defense. The Pioneers have recovered two fumbles and intercepted five passes this year.

Like Highlands, the Pioneers have been two-platooning for years. Senior defensive lineman Vuk Sajlovic leads the Pionners with 23 tackles including one for a loss. Senior defensive back Zack Koenes and senior linebacker Aric Hoffman have 22 tackles each and junior linebacker Nate Walker has 20 tackles including five for a loss.

"They're very fundamentally sound," Umberg said. "They're very gap sound. They're clearly very well-coached. They don't make very many mistakes. That's where we have to take advantage of our athleticism and our speed and just outrun them places and bring the intensity once again this week."

The Highlands defense is coming off its best performance of the season allowing just 56 yards on 47 plays for an average of about 1.2 yards per play in the win over Campbell County. The Bluebirds have allowed 543 yards rushing and 283 passing for averages of 181 rushing and just more than 94 passing per game.

"It's mainly about trusting the guy next to you knowing they're going to do their job and you're going to do your job so the play is successful," said Mason South, Highlands junior linebacker. "You have to play how your coaches tell you play and how you've learned to play all year long. It's not about (opponents). It's about us."

The Bluebirds did not have any turnovers against the Camels. But they still have 11 takeaways on the season to just five giveaways for a plus-six in the turnover column with seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

Highlands senior linebacker Brycen Huddleston leads Highlands with 12 tackles including three for a loss. Huddleston also has a fumble recovery and interception. Senior linebacker Mason Schwalbach has five tackles with three for a loss and a quarterback sack for a safety against Campbell County to go with an interception. Highlands senior defensive back Jacob Brass leads Highlands with three interceptions including the team's lone defensive touchdown against Scott.

"That's what we've been preaching this whole season is wreaking havoc," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We need guys out there that are going to do their job then get after it. We just keep getting better at it every week. I'm excited where we are."

The Bluebirds will face a Simon Kenton offense that changes each year to adapt to its personnel returning seven starters from last year. The Pioneers have 387 yards rushing and 453 passing for averages of 129 rushing and 151 passing. They were more run-oriented with read-option attacks last year. Both teams like to make opponents defend the entire field.

"(The) Highlands defense is impressive," Marksberry said. "One thing for sure is we must find a way to get Huddleston blocked. He is a really good player. We must play sound offensive football and execute."

Things start up front for Simon Kenton with senior offensive linemen Lucas Kreidenweis and Cory Cleveland. Senior running back Austin Hammack returns, but senior Erik Brown leads the team in rushing with 233 yards on 45 carries and a touchdown for an average of just more than five yards per carry.

Freshman Chase Crone has taken over at quarterback. Crone has completed 33-of-60 passes for 368 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Junior Caleb Livers leads the Pioneers with 91 yards receiving on four catches and a touchdown. Junior Kody Sims has the most catches with 10 for 81 yards.

"They are trying to bring (Crone) in slowly, but he is good," Weinrich said. "But I'm really impressed with him for being so young. If someone told me he's a freshman, I wouldn't believe it. He plays much older than that."

Highlands is 26-4 all-time against Simon Kenton. The Bluebirds snapped a three-game losing streak against the Pioneers with a 38-9 win at David Cecil Memorial Stadium last year. That also marked the first Highlands win over Simon Kenton since 1998. The teams did not play each other between 1999 and 2014.

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