|Bluebirds Fall Shorts of Huge Win, 31-28|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands senior wide receiver Adam Weyer (9) tries to go upfield after making a catch against Knoxville Catholic on Saturday.|
The answer appears to be an emphatic yes in a 31-28 loss to the Knoxville (Tennessee) Catholic Knights in the Cumberland Falls Pigskin Classic in Corbin on Saturday. This marked the first time the Bluebirds (1-1 overall) ever faced a team from Tennessee.
"I think all of us (coaches) are really proud of the guys. They played hard the whole game," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "Some things went our way. Some things didn't go our way. At the end of the day, we lost the game. But I think there's a lot of positives we can take from it. We grew a lot. We have to go back and figure out what we did right, what we did wrong. We just have to keep getting after it."
Highlands actually put itself in position to win the game in the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-long, Highlands senior linebacker Mason Schwalbach picked off a John Jancek pass and returned it to the Knoxville Catholic 18.
On the next play, Highlands drew a pass interference penalty and moved it to the KnoxCath 9. Then on third-and-goal from the 5, Highlands senior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth rolled right then back to this left and found senior wide receiver Joey Deschler for the touchdown. Senior Brennan Haigis' fourth point-after-touchdown kick put the Bluebirds up 28-24 with 4:31 left in the game.
"I thought we showed flashes of that tempo we're looking for," said Sam Umberg, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "Based on how the game was going, we had to pull back on the reigns a little bit, too. You have to play to the pace of the game, too and understand what's going to put our guys in the best position to succeed."
But the KnoxCath offense responded to the challenge. The Fighting Irish drove down the field and scored with 1:59 left in the game when sophomore Keondre' Jarmon walked one from a yard out to make the final score. Highlands could not convert a first down on the final possession.
The Knoxville Catholic offense was as good as advertised running the Spread-Option. The Fighting Irish (2-0) racked up 544 yards of total offense including 375 rushing on 85 plays for an average of 6.4 yards per play and 26 first downs. Jancek led the way with 20 carries for 132 yards and a touchdown and completed 12-of-25 passes for 169 yards and two interceptions. Jancek averaged 6.6 yards per carry.
Freshman running back Tommy Winton also had a big game for the Fighting Irish. Winton had 104 yards rushing on four carries and two touchdowns for an average of 26 yards per carry.
"They run a very unique offense," Weinrich said. "You can rep it all you want in practice. Until you see it a few times live, it takes some time to adjust to it. There is something for when commentators say game speed in seeing that stuff. It did take us a while to get settled down."
Highlands did have success forcing KnoxCath into 3rd-and-long situations. The Fighting Irish converted 8-of-17 on third down and went 0-for-1 on fourth down. The good news is Highlands won't see two offensive linemen like seniors Cooper Mays, a University of Tennessee commit, and Bryn Tucker, a Clemson University commit, the rest of the season.
The Bluebirds went 6-of-15 on third down for 40 percent and 0-for-2 on fourth down. Umberg said 40 percent on third down is not bad. The team goal is 45-46 percent in that department.
"There are some things we have to a better job of executing," Umberg said. "It comes down to us putting ourselves in better position on third down and going from there. That's executing on first down."
Highlands had 362 yards of offense on 78 carries for an average of 4.6 per play including 211 on the ground and 17 first downs. Senior Collin Hollingsworth led the way completing 14-of-26 passes for 207 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also had 76 yards rushing on 27 carries and a touchdown for an average of nearly three per carry.
Hollingsworth found some room scrambling in the first half. But KnoxCath made him scramble forward in the second half limiting the yards he gained.
Highlands did see senior running back Tyler Brune for 56 yards on 12 carries and sophomore Griffin Richter had a few carries. But junior Joe Buten did not play in the game.
Senior Adam Weyer led Highlands with four catches for 100 yards and Deschler had three for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Jack Delagrange had three catches for 28 yards and senior Hunter Ahlfeld had two catches for 14 yards and a touchdown.
The opportunistic Highlands 3-5 defense made plays to give the Bluebirds a chance recording four turnovers while the Highlands offense turned it over just twice. Highlands stands at plus-six in the turnover department this year.
The Bluebirds had four fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Senior defensive back Jacob Brass had the other interception for his team-high third of the season with senior linebacker Brycen Huddleston and senior defensive back Noah LaMothe recovering one fumble each.
Knoxville Catholic started strong taking the opening drive down the field and scoring when Winton broke free for a 22-yard run. Winton broke free for a 72-yard touchdown score with 1:24 left in the quarter to go up 14-0.
Highlands did have a chance to tie the game. But junior defensive back Nicklaus Iverson picked off a Highlands pass in the end zone with 2:22 left in the first quarter.
The Bluebirds broke through in the beginning of the second quarter. Hollingsworth found Weyer for a 77-yard pass down to the KnoxCath 3. Then to start the second quarter, Hollingsworth ran it in for three yards.
Following an exchange of turnovers, the Irish scored when Jancek scored from a yard out. But Highlands fought back to tie the game at 21 at halftime. Hollingsworth hit Deschler for a 46-yard pass before hitting Ahlfeld for a 14-yard touchdown with 3:54 left in the first half.
Brass then recorded his interception to set Highlands up deep in KnoxCath territory. Hollingsworth then found Deschler for a 10-yard score to tie the game.
The Fighting Irish drove the ball into Bluebird territory with a minute to go. But a bad exchange on 4th-and-1 at the Highlands 19 forced a turnover on downs.
Highlands received the ball to start the second half. But after punting back to KnoxCath, the Fighting Irish drove inside the Highlands 10, but had to settle for a senior Paxton Robertson 28-yard field goal with 6:06 left in the third quarter. Robertson missed a 39-yard attempt wide left with 8:35 left in the fourth quarter.
Highlands plays host to Campbell County (0-2) on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.