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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Highlands Football Set for District Play

Bluebirds Play Host to Cougars to Open District Play

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior defensive back Jacob Buecker (38) watches during the game at Boyle County on Friday.

The Highlands Bluebirds know earning the 900th win in program history is of major importance this week.

That's because it is the start of Class 5A, District 5 action. It starts at David Cecil Memorial Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m. against the Conner Cougars (5-1 overall).

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The other four teams opened district play last week while Highlands (4-2) traveled to Boyle County and lost 30-0. The Cougars defeated county rival Boone County, 39-7.

The Cougars have outscored opponents, 163-59 for an average of just more than 27 points to just under 10 points. The combined record of the six Conner opponents in 11-22 with only Class 2A Lloyd Memorial at 3-2 posting a winning record. Like the Bluebirds, the Cougars have posted two shutout on the season including winless Campbell County (0-5), which has been shut out in four straight games and has only scored 13 points this season.

Highlands has outscored opponents, 172-81 for averages of between 28 and 29 points to 13.5 points per game. The combined record of the six opponents is 19-15. Three opponents including Scott (4-2) have winning records.

Highlands and Conner have one other common opponent in the Ryle Raiders. The Bluebirds shut our the Raiders, 27-0 on Sept. 20 in Fort Thomas while the Raiders handed the Cougars their lone loss, 34-10 on Aug. 30 in Union.

The Cougars run a Spread-Option offense. They have put up 578 yards rushing and 1,265 yards passing as a team for averages of just more than 96 rushing and 210 passing per game. Senior quarterback Jared Hicks has completed 98-of-154 passes for that passing total to go with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Hicks has also rushed for 127 yards on 51 carries and six touchdowns for an average of about 2.5 yards per touch. Junior Colton Roy has a team-high 230 yards rushing on 32 carries and a touchdown for an average of just more than seven yards per carry and 35 catches for 493 yards and four touchdowns.

"Their offense is really good. Everything revolves around the quarterback," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "He's been there for a couple years. (Roy) is a really good football player that they try to get the ball to in different ways."

The Cougars try to keep defenses honest by making sure other players become involved. Senior Justin Daniels has 26 catches for 322 yards and three touchdowns and senior Douglas Abdon has 73 carries for 225 yards and four touchdowns for an average of just more than three yards per carry.

The disciplined Highlands 3-5 defense kept the Bluebirds in striking range of the Rebels until the fourth quarter. Weinrich said an area of emphasis this week will be tackling in open spaces.

"Conner tries to put a lot of pressure on you to trust your keys," Weinrich said. "Like so many Spread teams do, they try to get the ball out in space to their play-makers. That puts a lot of pressure on individual guys to make tackles in space, which is the most difficult skill in football. We have to make sure we're sound out in space."

Teams have run for 956 yards and passed for 548 against Highlands. Those equate to averages of just more than 159 per game rushing and just more than 91 passing.

Boyle County ran a reverse one play. But the Highlands defenders stayed home and limited the play for a minimal gain.

"(Discipline has) been really big," said Mason Schwalbach, Highlands senior linebacker. "I think that was even bigger on just that play alone because it really showed that everyone is trusting what they're doing and we're all playing for each other and know each other's responsibilities out there. The discipline allows us to play faster and really just get after it more."

Highlands senior linebacker Brycen Huddleston continues to lead the way with 50 tackles including 29 solo, eight for a loss and four quarterback sacks. Senior defensive lineman Zach Lewin has 25 tackles with 10 for a loss and four sacks.

Highlands is still plus-11 on the season in the turnover category having recovered seven fumbles and picked off 11 passes. Senior defensive back Jacob Brass has a team-high five interceptions and junior defensive back Jason Noe has two. Junior linebacker Mason South has a team-high two fumble recoveries.

The Highlands offense has rushed for 673 yards and passed for 1,074. Junior running back Joe Buten was still not available against Boyle County. With senior Tyler Brune (59 carries for a team-high 238 yards rushing, three touchdowns) and sophomore Griffin Richter (141 yards rushing on 37 carries), Highlands did have some short, small bursts, but could not consistently run the ball against the Rebels.

"That's exactly how it's been really the last couple weeks," said Sam Umberg, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "We're really, really close to being awesome. It's just a lacking of execution by one guy or another that really holds us back from breaking through. I feel real good about what we're going to be doing this week as far as the game plan goes. I think we can really hit our stride this week. It all comes down to execution."

Highlands senior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth has completed 74-of-144 passes for 971 yards to go with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. Hollingsworth has also rushed for 169 yards on 77 carries and three touchdowns. He had a long run against the Rebels.

"I think our defense has our back," Hollingsworth said. "They're going to be strong every game and the offense is trying to get to that point so it's a matter of keeping a level head. We're going to be working a lot of routes and that kind of thing just to get the timing down."

When Highlands has consistently hit the long routes in the past, it opened things up for the running game and the short to intermediate routes. Hollingsworth did hit a long pass to sophomore Jacob Welch against Boyle County. But many of those passes were overthrown or the receivers did not make the catches even though they were within reach.

Senior wide receiver Hunter Ahlfeld has a team-high 232 yards on 16 catches and five touchdowns for Highlands. Senior Jack Delagrange has 18 catches for 190 yards and two scores with senior Joey Deschler going for 14 catches for 187 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Adam Weyer has nine catches for 161 yards and Welch has five catches for 93 yards and three touchdowns.

"We've got athletes. We've got position players," Umberg said. "From an outsider looking in last week, it did seem like all we were trying to do was hit the deep ball, but that wasn't the case. We are trying to mix it up and get it into our playmakers' hands. We're just not clicking at the right spots at the right times. I think we're a lot closer than the naked eye can see from the stands."

Defensively, Conner plays a 3-4 or 40 front defense. Umberg said the Cougars have walked down outside linebackers and brought pressure from up the middle and short side pressure with outside linebackers. Umberg said the Cougars like to make teams march down the field.

Teams have rushed for 773 yards and passed for 617 against the Cougars for averages of just under 129 rushing and just under 103 passing per game. In the lone loss, Ryle senior running back Kyle England rushed for a season-high 197 yards on 17 carries and four touchdowns for an average of just more than 11.5 yards per carry. Highlands held England to just 50 yards rushing on 18 carries for an average of just under three yards per carry.

The Cougars have recovered two fumbles and picked off four passes this year defensively. Sophomore Parker Hitzfield leads Conner with 65 tackles including 27 solo to go with four tackles for a loss and one sack. Senior Chase Kurtz has five sacks and nine tackles for a loss.

Highlands last played Conner in 2006. The Bluebirds are 21-2 all-time against the Cougars.

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