|Bluebirds Set for Rematch Against Cougars|
|PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands sophomore running back Griffin Richter could be counted on for carries when the Bluebirds open the playoffs at Conner on Friday at 7 p.m.|
The Highlands Bluebirds football team (6-4 overall) is looking to take advantage of that second chance on Friday in a Class 5A, District 5 rematch at the Conner Cougars (7-3) at 7 p.m. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association voted to pair district opponents against each other in the first two round of the playoffs this year.
"I think it will be a good opportunity to go back and fix some of the things that we did wrong," said Noah LaMothe, Highlands senior defensive back. "The deeper fade routes can be covered better. We got a do-over and not a lot of teams get that."
Second-seeded Conner finished 3-1 in district play with the only loss coming 45-7 against Covington Catholic and third-seeded Highlands finished 2-2 losing 13-0 to the Colonels and 20-17 to the Cougars in Fort Thomas on Oct. 4 in the last minute when senior quarterback Jared Hicks completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Colton Roy.
In that win, Conner ran 77 plays to 56 for Highlands. The Cougars put up 307 yards of total offense and 22 first downs for an average of just under four yards per play to 125 yards and 11 first downs for an average of just more than two yards per play for the Bluebirds.
Hicks completed 24-of-38 passes for 235 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Senior Drew Cobble had eight catches for 81 yards and a touchdown and senior Caleb Ervin had five catches for 78 yards. Roy had four receptions for 31 yards. The Bluebirds contained the Conner option rushing attack.
"The focus with these guys is the coverage," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "(Hicks) is such a good quarterback and he does a really good job finding the open guy. We have to really stay on our coverage and make sure that guys have no room to breathe."
Conner comes into the game on a two-game losing streak. The Cougars lost a tight 38-35 game to Class 6A, District 8 champion George Rogers Clark to finish the regular season.
The Cougars have put up 2,358 yards passing and 813 rushing on the season for averages of just below 240 passing and just above 81 yards rushing per game out of their Spread-Option offense. Hicks has completed 177-of-272 passes for 19 touchdowns and five interceptions and rushed for 255 yards on 101 carries and 10 touchdowns.
But the Highlands defense has been strong in its 3-5 scheme all season. The Bluebirds have allowed 1,263 yards rushing and 1,211 yards passing for averages of just above 126 rushing and just above 121 passing.
Senior linebacker Brycen Huddleston has a team-high 96 tackles with 12 for a loss and four sacks for the Bluebirds. Highlands senior defensive lineman Zach Lewin has 44 tackles with 16 for a loss and five sacks.
The Bluebirds have created turnovers with pressure all season with 16 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. Senior defensive back Jacob Brass has a team-high six interceptions and junior defensive back Jason Noe has four. LaMothe did not play against Conner during the regular season.
Highlands beat Cooper, 14-7 to finish the regular season then had its bye week. The Bluebirds spent the bye week trying to become healthy, especially at wide receiver. Senior wide receiver Ethan Houze is expected to play Friday.
"I felt we used our bye week to the best of our advantage," said Sam Umberg, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "We have our horses. This is who we're rocking with and we feel good about it. We're all really excited about the opportunity. This is the big one. That's what we're going to continue to pound into our guys. There is a different energy with the players, with the coaching staff. It's fun, fun, fun."
Highlands has rushed for 1,298 yards and passed for 1,309 for averages of just under 130 rushing and just more than 130 passing. Senior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth has completed 93-of-183 passes for 1,171 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The leading wide receiver is senior Hunter Ahlfeld with 22 catches for 298 yards and six touchdowns.
"We're leaving it all out on the field," Houze said. "It could be the last game we ever play. The seniors realize that. The underclassmen realize it, too. It's all about execution from all of us whether it's quarterbacks, running backs, o-line or receivers. We just have to trust what we do and we'll be fine."
Sophomore running back Griffin Richter leads Highlands with 63 carries for 291 yards and a touchdown for an average of just more than 4.6 yards per carry. But senior Sawyer Depp has played at running back in the past three games in addition to playing at defensive back and had 27 carries for 289 yards and four touchdowns averaging must more than 10 yards per touch.
Depp ran for two touchdowns against Cooper between the tackles. The Bluebirds hope to do more than that to open things up against the Cougars.
Senior Tyler Brune has 278 yards rushing on 73 carries and three touchdowns for an average of about 3.8 yards per carry. Hollingsworth and junior running back Joe Buten have rushed for 166 yards each for the Bluebirds.
Conner runs the 3-4 or 40 front defense. The Cougars have allowed 1,081 yards rushing and 1,126 yards passing this season for averages of just more than 108 rushing and just below 113 passing. George Rogers Clark passed for 219 yards and ran for 250 in the win in Hebron.
Sophomore Parker Hitzfield leads the Cougars with 96 tackles on the season including six for a loss. Sophomore Clayton Melcher has 54 tackles with four for a loss. Senior Chase Kurtz has eight sacks.
Conner has six fumble recoveries and four interceptions on the season. Senior Timothy Leiprecht and sophomore Cody Crawford have two fumble recoveries each. Crawford returned one of the fumbles for a touchdown.
Highlands is 21-3 all-time against Conner. The Bluebirds have only lost in the first round of the playoffs once since 1991. It came at Louisville Doss three years ago.