|Rebels Expose Bluebirds in Final District Tune-Up|
|PHOTO: Ed Harber. Members of the Highlands football team including Bryson Cody (31), George King (12) and Patrick Clukey (4) prepare to take the field against Boyle County on Friday,|
By G. Michael Graham
The seconds ticked down to 10 at the end of the first half.
The Highlands Bluebirds football team needed something positive to go its way on the drive in an otherwise rugged first half against the undefeated Boyle County Rebels. Sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon rolled right and fired to the right corner of the end zone from 20 yards out. Fellow sophomore wide receiver Brennan Kelsay came down with it with six seconds left in the half for the touchdown and sophomore kicker Davis Burleigh made the extra-point attempt.
That is the lone time the Bluebirds (1-2 overall) finished a drive in not just the game Friday, but the entire two-game series against the Rebels (3-0). Boyle County came into the game ranked second in Class 4A in the latest Associated Press poll. The Rebels won 46-7 after posting a 30-0 win over the Bluebirds in Danville last year.
"We played a great team. When you play a great team, you have to play great. We didn't play great," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "It's real simple. Things get compounded and exposed real quick against a great team. It's frustrating right now."
Boyle County may have been undefeated. But the Bluebirds left David Cecil Memorial Stadium wondering what might have happened if they'd have played better like they had in the 28-13 loss to Simon Kenton and the 23-14 win at Ryle last week.
The Highlands 3-5 defense made some stands in the first half. But the Spread offense could not sustain drives keeping the defense fresh converting on just 2-of-12 on third down for 17 percent and 0-for-3 on fourth down.
The Bluebirds ran just 44 plays on offense for 115 yards for an average of 2.6 per play. On the other side, the Rebels gained 335 yards of total offense on 65 carries for an average of more than five yards per touch.
"You don't have a choice. Guys have to grow up real quick," Weinrich said. "We preached all week (when) you play a team like this, they're not going to give you a single thing. They're not going to make any mistakes and if you make one mistake, they're going to expose it. Every mistake we made, they exposed tenfold and they didn't make any mistakes. We didn't force them to make any mistakes. Defense played great early. But you can't expect to the defense to be out there the whole game. The offense has to help and we just didn't make any plays."
Highlands knew it needed more offensive balance to beat the Rebels. Noon rushed for just 37 yards on 12 carries for just more than three yards per carry. Noon completed 8-of-16 passes for 43 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Kelsay and junior wide receiver Clayton Lloyd had two catches for 18 yards to lead Highlands. But on a number of occasions, Noon threw the ball on target. But the Bluebirds receivers would grab the ball and it came out as they hit the ground.
"If we execute on offense, I feel like it's going to be a great year for us," Kelsay said. "We just have to catch the ball. Our coaches have been telling us, 'No thinking. Just do it. Play 110 percent."
Boyle County displayed its balanced attack. Senior quarterback Jagger Gillis completed 14-of-21 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown and rushed for two more. Senior running back Will McDaniel put up similar numbers to last year with 20 carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
Six different receivers caught passes for Boyle County. Junior wide receiver Cole Lanter led the way with four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
The Rebels took the opening kickoff and drove down the field to the Highlands 15. But after running for no gain on first down, Boyle County committed a false start penalty before two incompletions forced a Jackson Smith 35-yard field goal with 7:45 left in the first quarter to put Boyle County up 3-0.
Boyle County took advantage of a turnover on the first Highlands possession. Senior linebacker Luke Sheperson picked off a Noon pass at the Highlands 47 and returned it for a touchdown. Lanter converted the two-point run to give the Rebels an 11-0 lead with 6:09 left in the first quarter.
The Rebels built the lead to 25-0 before Highlands scored late in the second quarter. Gillis scored from nine yards out with 9:23 left in the second quarter and McDaniel scored from eight yards out with one minute to go. Senior wide receiver Jason Noe had a long kickoff return to set up the lone Highlands touchdown.
Boyle County scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter to pull away. Gillis scored from two yards out with 8:59 left in the third quarter before Lanter hauled in a 37-yard pass from Lanter with 6:39 remaining and McDaniel scored from three yards out with 2:32 left in the quarter.
Highlands opens up Class 5A, District 5 action at Conner (2-0) on Saturday. Game time is 7 p.m.