Bluebirds Pull Away from Pioneers
It has not been easy for opposing football teams to win at Chlorine B. Menefee Stadium in recent years and host Simon Kenton Pioneers played the Highlands Bluebirds that tough in non-district play Friday. But two big turnovers led to two quick scores early in the fourth quarter allowing the Bluebirds (3-1) to pull away from Simon Kenton (2-2), 28-7 on Friday. This marked just the seventh home loss for the Pioneers since the start of the 2012 season.
The Bluebirds took the ball away three times in the game with two interceptions and a fumble recovery and did not turn the ball over. Highlands has 14 takeaways on the season to just five giveaways for a plus-nine in the turnover department.
"I'm just really proud of the guys (with) the way they responded in the second half," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We could have come out soft. But we came out and got after it. Getting better is a powerful statement. We got better in the second half."
The first key turnover came as the Pioneers started to march down the field. But Highlands senior defensive back Jacob Brass picked off a pass from Simon Kenton quarterback Chase Crone and returned the ball to the Pioneer 10. Similar to what fellow Highlands senior defensive back Sawyer Depp said in the preseason, Brass mentioned it took teamwork to record the big play.
"I was just playing in my position in the middle of the field," Brass said. "The hit caused (Crone) to throw the ball off. It happened to come right to me. It was pretty lucky. I was trying to get into the end zone from there."
Highlands senior running back Tyler Brune scored from 10 yards out to put the Bluebirds up 21-7 on the next play. Brune finished with a season-high 89 yards rushing on 15 carries for an average of nearly six yards per carry. Highlands junior running back Joe Buten did not play Friday.
"It's great to be able to trust your defense," Brune said. "I'm always positive the (defenders) are going to work their tails off every single play. The way they had a stop there is phenomenal."
On the next Simon Kenton possession, Highlands junior linebacker Mason South recovered a fumble near the sideline. Plays later, Highlands senior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth scored from four yards out to make the final score with seven minutes, 49 seconds left in the game.
"You have to run your feet and block (defenders)," said Jackson Bibb, Highlands senior offensive lineman. "If you do all the small things, then the big things are good to go. We just have to fine-tune some things in practice."
The first interception by junior defensive back Jason Noe came with a minute left in the first half. That ended a Simon Kenton drive into Highlands territory.
Both defenses came up huge on third down. Simon Kenton converted just 5-of-17 on third down for 29 percent and the Bluebirds converted just 4-of-16 on third down for 25 percent. Highlands did convert 2-of-4 on fourth down for 50 percent and the Pioneers did not go for it at all on fourth down.
Highlands did run the most plays offensively it has in any game this season with 81. The Bluebirds garnered 343 yards for an average of just more than 4.2 yards per play. They passed for 193 and ran for 150.
"It all comes down to consistency," said Billy Huddleston, Highlands wide receivers coach. "Our biggest thing right now is we have to trust the process. It's that simple. You have to trust that there's 11 men on the field and the other 10 guys are going to do everything they're supposed to so you're going to do the same thing. It's all about building a brotherhood. That's what it's been about at Highlands since day one."
Hollingsworth completed 19-of-36 passes for 193 yards. Senior Hunter Ahlfeld had four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown with seniors Joey Deschler and Jack Delagrange hauling in five catches for 50 yards.
The Highlands defense held the Pioneers to just 257 yards on 78 plays for an average of just under 3.3 yards per play. Simon Kenton mostly ran the read-option out of the spread offense with Crone and senior running back Austin Hammack and threw in passes to keep the defense honest. Crone ran for 62 yards on 17 carries and Hammack had 61 yards rushing on 30 carries.
"You just have to keep working hard, running fast and reading your keys every time," said Mason Welsch, Highlands sophomore linebacker. "You have to bring your feet every single play if you get that read-option."
Hammack completed 11-of-22 passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The lone Pioneer touchdown came on a 17-yard pass to Evan Mulberry in the first quarter. Junior Trey Little led Simon Kenton with four catches for 49 yards.
"They're a really good offense. (Crone) runs it as well as anyone I've seen run (the read-option)," Weinrich said. "You just have to stay patient, trust your keys, come downhill and try to make plays. We made plays when we needed to."
Senior linebacker Brycen Huddleston had eight solo tackles, five assisted tackles, three tackles for a loss and one quarterback sack to lead the Bluebirds. Brass had six solo and one assisted tackle. Senior defensive lineman Zach Lewin had three tackles for a loss and a quarterback sack. Highlands recorded 11 tackles for a loss as a team.
Highlands scored on its second possession of the game. Hollingsworth found sophomore Jacob Welch for a 14-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
The Bluebirds went ahead for good in the second quarter. Hollingsworth found Ahlfeld for a 34-yard touchdown down the left sideline.
Highlands did have five penalties for 44 yards. Simon Kenton had just three for 25. A long Hollingsworth run was called back because of a penalty.
Highlands plays host to Ryle (3-1) on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.