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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Highlands heads to Ryle looking for first win

Bluebirds Hit Road For First Time

Highlands junior wide receiver Isaac Surrey looks for yardage against Simon Kenton on Friday.
(Img: Ed Harber)
By G. Michael Graham

The coaching staffs at Highlands in all sports can't stress enough the importance of daily improvements.

But for the Bluebirds football team, Head Coach Brian Weinrich has been saying this team needs to do that in a more urgent manner before the next game Friday. The Bluebirds travel to Union to face the Ryle Raiders at 7 p.m.

Highlands opened the season with a 27-14 loss to the Simon Kenton Pioneers while Ryle opened with a 39-8 win over the Boone County Rebels in Florence. The Bluebirds watched film starting Saturday and saw a lot of positives. It's just a matter of cleaning some things up to send the ship sailing in the right direction. Weinrich said the junior varsity scrimmaged Simon Kenton on Saturday and improved.

"Saturday and Monday were awesome," Weinrich said after Monday's practice. "We had great film sessions on Saturday morning. We started at 7 a.m. They were all here on time ready to go. We got so much out of the film session. It was frustrating. But at the same time, it was energizing. We were so close on so many things. Nothing that went wrong on Friday is not fixable. We went out on Friday and had a phenomenal practice."

Weinrich agreed the players are more bought in to what the team is trying to accomplish this year. That is one big reason why the Bluebirds showed more diversity in the Spread offense than last year gaining 375 yards on 87 plays averaging between four and five yards per play.

"Since day one in January, these guys have been awesome," Weinrich said. "One of the themes we've been preaching with them is brotherhood and selflessness. Don't worry about yourself. Worry about the guy next to you. They've bought into that 100 percent in everything we've done this off-season in holding each other accountable. They're doing more on their own than any team I've ever been associated with. They're going out when they were allowed to get out and do things. They were doing virtual workouts together. We didn't even know they were doing them. The quarterbacks and receivers went out on their own this weekend and worked on their routes. They're watching film together virtually. It is exciting to be with this group." 

Sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon led that effort rushing for 132 yards on 19 attempts and a touchdown for an average of nearly seven yards per carry for the Bluebirds. Noon also completed 6-of-11 passes for 62 yards.

But the Bluebirds gave opponents a lot to consider starting senior Jake Fahlbusch in the first half and Weinrich said both will play there again Friday. Fahlbusch rushed for 34 yards and completed 7-of-12 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. The two made sure a number of teammates such as senior running back Mason South and junior running back Griffin Richter, a converted quarterback to wide receiver in Isaac Surrey and sophomore wide reciever Brennan Kelsay saw touches. Richter had two catches for 56 yards with Surrey and Kelsay hauling in three catches each.

It helped that the offensive line for the Bluebirds showed a lot of positive signs. The Bluebirds returned two starters there from last year in senior Jackson Roy and junior Kaleb Kissee. But Roy is mostly playing on the defensive line. Seniors Jake Arthur, Trevor Harms, Chase Gordon and junior Ivan Roller saw a lot of action on the offensive line in that first game.

"I thought they played decently well Friday," said Scott Turner, Highlands offensive line coach. "We had some false starts and everything. I'm happy with the way they're gelling. We're focused on the little things - first step placements, hand placements and things like that to fine-tune. We're not a very big offensive line, but we're fairly athletic."

The players and coaches know those numbers could have been better. The Bluebirds converted just 3-of-15 on third down for 20 percent and 3-of-7 on fourth down for 43 percent. That plus a late lost fumble stopped drives that could have made the game interesting.

Highlands had success the read-option plays and throwing short and intermediate routes. The Bluebirds know they can give defenses more to worry about if they can start completing longer passes. They tried some against Simon Kenton, but could not connect. But that is being addressed in practice this week.

Ryle plays four-man fronts defensively. The Raiders allowed 74 yards rushing and just 18 passing in the win over Boone County.





Senior defensive lineman Wilson Pendleton led Ryle defensively in that win with eight tackles including 1.5 tackles for a loss and one quarterback sack. The Raiders had three sacks. Senior linebacker Max Hungler returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown in the win.

Ryle recorded eight tackles for a loss and three sacks against Boone County. Limiting those negative plays will be key for the Highlands offensive line.

"I think we're hungry and we're ready to go hit some people," Arthur said. "It's extremely vital because a blown play can turn into a touchdown if you keep blocking because a play is never going to go exactly how it's designed. But as long as you're on somebody, I think our (running) backs are athletic enough to cut off our blocks."

The 3-5 Highlands defense made Simon Kenton earn everything. But two big plays made the difference. The Bluebirds allowed a 59-yard touchdown in the first half and an 87-yard touchdown pass when Simon Kenton sophomore quarterback Chase Crone rolled to the right, found teammate Trey Little over the middle and Little broke a tackle before outracing the Highlands defense to the end zone.

Simon Kenton garnered 385 yards of total offense on 75 plays for an average of just more than five yards per play. Take away those two plays and the Pioneers average just more than three yards per play.

The Bluebirds did a good job for the most part of leveraging the read-option running plays to the running back out wide and making tackles for a loss. The defensive backs also batted away a number of passes.

The Highlands defense recorded two takeaways in the loss to stop Simon Kenton drives into Highlands territory. Senior defensive back Dominic Robinson picked off a deflected pass and South recovered a fumble.



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"We just have to keep defending the pass," said Jacob Buecker, Highlands senior defensive back. "Really, the big plays come when one player doesn't do his responsibility. Everyone has to do his job and just trust each other. You have to stay on your man no matter what because you never know when the ball is going to come."

Ryle rushed for 124 yards and passed for 246 against Boone County. Six different players ran the ball. But the Raiders had their first big game passing the ball in two years as senior quarterback Bradyn Lyons completed 11-of-16 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and an interception out of the Spread offense.

Ryle graduated the top rusher from last year in Kyle England. Senior running back Connor Lee was second last year with 253 yards rushing on 26 carries and a touchdown. But he did not play against Boone County.

Eight different players caught passes in the win. Senior wide receiver Jackson McGinnis led the way with four for 101 yards and a touchdown.

"Honestly, we're not spending a lot of time worry about Ryle right now," Weinrich said. "We still have to worry about Highlands way more than anybody else. Every team is like that. We still don't know (our identity). That was our first time going against a different offense, a different defense, different players. We're obviously making adjustments as needed to make sure we're in position to be successful Friday."

Highlands has won the last two meetings against the Raiders including a 27-0 shutout in Fort Thomas last year. The Bluebirds are 13-5 all-time against Ryle.

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