|Bluebirds See Many Positives in Defeat|
|PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands senior offensive lineman Chase Gordon makes a move in the game against Simon Kenton on Friday.|
The first game of the delayed start to the 2020 football season did not result in a victory.
The Simon Kenton Pioneers came to Fort Thomas and recorded a 27-14 victory. But signs pointed to a promising season for the Highlands Bluebirds if they clean some things up.
Highlands ran 87 plays, which has played a huge role in past success, for 375 yards of total offense for an average of just more than four yards per play. The Bluebirds rushed for 219 yards and passed for 156.
Simon Kenton gained 385 yards on 75 plays for an average of just more than five yards per play. But an 87-yard touchdown pass on some missed tackles accounted for just more than one-third of Simon Kenton's 253 yards passing and a 59-yard touchdown run accounted for just under 45 percent of the Pioneers' 132 yards rushing.
"That's what football is," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We missed a couple opportunities on some drives to keep the drive moving on fourth down. We had that turnover at the end when we could have made the game interesting. They had a knack for making plays on fourth down. That really is the difference in the game because their fourth-down (conversions) led to scores."
But both teams made the offenses earn everything. Highlands held Simon Kenton to 6-of-16 on third down for 38 percent and 2-of-3 on fourth down for 67 percent. The Bluebirds converted 3-of-15 on third down for 20 percent and 3-of-7 on fourth down for 43 percent.
"The defense played well," Weinrich said. "They did a great job of getting out there and flying around. (The Simon Kenton Spread Offense) is not easy to show up and play, which we had to do. It's going to be a great opportunity (Saturday) to show up and learn from the film. We had a lot of guys out there with little to no varsity experience. It just moves faster and it moves different. We have to work like crazy to get better."
Simon Kenton sophomore quarterback Chase Crone completed 14-of-30 passes for 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But senior defensive lineman Vance Moore, junior defensive lineman Henry King and senior linebacker Jack Cavanagh each sacked him once. Junior defensive back Will Hartman also had a tackle for a loss.
"Plays like really change the game," King said. "When you get big plays, it gets everyone else hyped. That's what we like. We like pressure. We like to stay low and trust our keys."
Simon Kenton used a number of formations out of the spread. Crone completed a lot of short and intermediate routes. The Pioneers also ran the read-option a good bit.
Highlands stretched the read plays out a good bit. But sophomore Jayden Lawson broke around the left perimeter for a 58-yard run with 3:20 left in the first quarter to put Simon Kenton up 10-0. Lawson finished with 103 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns for an average of just under seven yards per carry.
Trey Little had the 87-yard touchdown reception for the Pioneers. Crone rolled to the right, stopped and found Little over the middle. Little broke a tackle and raced to the end zone. He put Simon Kenton up 20-7 with 6:03 left in the first half.
The Bluebirds won the turnover battle recording one interception and recovering a fumble and losing one fumble late in the fourth quarter. Senior defensive back Dominic Robinson picked off a Crone pass in the first quarter and senior linebacker Mason South had a fumble recovery.
The Bluebirds played both senior Jake Fahlbusch and sophomore Charlie Noon at quarterback. Noon led Highlands with 18 rushes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Fahlbusch completed 7-of-12 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown and Noon completed 6-of-11 passes for 62 yards.
Six different players caught passes for the Bluebirds. Junior Griffin Richter caught two for 56 yards with sophomore Brennan Kelsay and junior Isaac Surrey recording three catches each for 35 and 34 yards. Highlands tried to throw the ball deep a couple times, but could not complete the passes.
"We're trying to take advantage of our athleticism," Weinrich said. "We just have to keep figuring out ways to get those guys the ball so we can take advantage of them. That's our job. We'll get to work on that (Saturday)."
Highlands ran a lot of misdirection. But penalties and negative plays put the Bluebirds back at times. The Bluebirds had 13 penalties for 113 yards compared to five for 24 for the Pioneers.
Senior Nick Seger booted a 29-yard field goal with 9:51 left in the first quarter to give the Pioneers the lead for good at 3-0. His 30-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the first half gave Simon Kenton a 13-7 advantage. On fourth down, Highlands scored its first touchdown when Fahlbusch found South for a six-yard touchdown.
The Bluebirds cut the margin to 20-14 with 3:36 left in the third quarter. Noon scored from four yards out and sophomore Davis Burleigh hit the point-after-touchdown.
But the Pioneers answered with a touchdown with 1:44 left in the third quarter. Senior running back Reed Carmony sneaked out of the backfield and caught a 28-yard pass down the right sideline on the drive for Simon Kenton. The Bluebirds received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play.
Highlands travels to Union to face the Ryle Raiders (1-0) on Friday. Game time is 1 p.m. Ryle defeated Boone County in Florence, 39-8 to open the season.