|Bluebirds Prepare for Another Battle with Colonels|
|Highlands senior defensive lineman Vance Moore has been instrumental in disrupting opposing backfields this season. |
(Img: Ed Harber)
By G. Michael Graham
A lot of things have come together in the last two weeks for the Highlands Bluebirds football team.
Highlands (3-2 overall) started Class 5A, District 5 play with consecutive shutouts at Conner (36-0) before beating Boone County (43-0) in Fort Thomas. The Bluebirds hope to see more of that solid play in the showdown against the arch-rival and defending state champion Covington Catholic Colonels (4-0). Game time is 7 p.m. Friday in Park Hills.
"We've really been coming together as a team," said Mason South, Highlands senior running back/linebacker. "We try to bring as much energy at practice to have the best practices possible that way we can have a successful Friday Night as we have been. We have to come out, execute, not get too high and not get too low."
The consecutive shutouts are one shy of last year's three total for Highlands. They've pushed Highlands to 123 points on the season compared to 87 for opponents for an average of between 24 and 25 points to between 17 and 18 points on the season.
"I have been saying it all year," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "Every single day has been an absolute blast to come to practice. These guys are so coachable. They have so much energy. They enjoy playing football. They enjoy being around each other. The chance to get to get to practice together and play games in a big game makes it even that more special."
The Highlands 3-5 defense has come up big stopping drives into Bluebirds territory in those last two games. The Bluebirds have allowed 650 yards rushing and 551 passing for averages of 130 rushing and just more than 110 passing.
Highlands senior defensive back Daniel Buchanan picked off a Boone County pass and returned it 75 yards in the Boone County win after the Rebels blocked a punt deep in Highlands territory. The Bluebirds scored shortly after that.
The Bluebirds have three fumble recoveries and eight interceptions this season. Senior defensive back/wide receiver Dominic Robinson leads Highlands with two interceptions and sophomore linebacker Sam Robinson has two fumble recoveries including one in the end zone for a touchdown against Conner.
Highlands has had solid play in the trenches. Senior defensive lineman Vance Moore has 15 tackles including five for a loss and three quarterback sacks. Senior defensive lineman Conner Shelton has two sacks with South recording 16 tackles including two for a loss.
The Highlands offense has put up the balance that has made the team successful in the past in these last two games behind the offensive line. The Bluebirds have run for 890 yards and passed for 547 for averages of 178 rushing and just under 110 passing.
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Sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon has completed 33-of-55 passes for 453 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Noon also leads the Bluebirds with 479 yards on 87 attempts with five touchdowns for an average of about 5.5 yards per carry.
But 13 different Bluebirds have rushed the ball and 11 have caught passes. Junior wide receiver Jacob Welch has four receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown with senior wide receiver/defensive back Jason Noe hauling in four for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Senior all-purpose skill position player Jake Fahlbusch had a 22-yard touchdown run against Boone County.
"I feel like we just need to fire on all cylinders," Fahlbusch said. "Wherever (the ball) goes, everyone just needs to do his job. If everyone does his job, a layer is built. Once we start building those layers, we can be a really dangerous team. We have to play our best ball."
Highlands did have some breakdowns on special teams against Boone County. The Rebels blocked a punt and point-after touchdown try. Highlands sophomore kicker Davis Burleigh has still connected on 14-of-15 PATs and made his lone field-gal attempt of the year that came in the win over Boone County.
"We preach every week that every guy has to execute every play they're out there whether it's a defensive play or a special teams play," Weinrich said. "It's still a play in the game. When you're going to play a game like this one we're going to play Friday, there are going to be three or four plays that make a difference in the game. But they don't tell you when they're going to happen. You have to be ready for every one of those plays to be those three or four that are going to make a difference. Special teams are no different so we really have to make sure we're focused in on that as well."
Covington Catholic had a bye week Friday. The blue Colonels barely beat Dixie Heights (21-14) before needing a field goal in the final seconds to edge rival Beechwood, 19-17. They've since rolled to district wins over Cooper (41-0) and Boone County (45-7). They've gone 48-1 since the start of 2017 with two Class 5A state championships and a state runner-up finish.
The Colonels have outscored opponents, 126-38 for average of between 31 and 32 points to between nine and 10 points. CovCath has rushed for 510 yards and passed for 697 for averages of 127.5 rushing and between 174 and 175 passing. Opponents have rushed for 260 yards and passed for 482 for averages of 65 rushing and between 120 and 121 passing.
Third-year starting quarterback Caleb Jacob has led the way in the CovCath Spread offense. Jacob is second on the team with 136 yards rushing on 33 carries and four touchdowns for an average of just more than four yards per carry and has completed 50-of-84 passes for 697 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
"CovCath executes at a high level," Weinrich said. "They do a great job taking advantage of what you give them. We've preached team defense since day one and it's never been more important than it is this week to make sure you know what you're doing, you're neighbor is doing and do it as fast as you can. They have a system in place and (Jacob) has been running it for a long time. A lot of teams are starting to come into their own and CovCath is no exception."
South said Jacob does a good job keeping his eyes downfield and finding his big wide receivers. Senior Ethan Reardon leads the way with 13 catches for 191 yards and four touchdowns with senior wide receiver Ryan Schneider hauling in 11 catches for 143 yards and a score.
Nine different Colonels have run the ball and 10 have receptions. Senior running back Owen Nally leads CovCath with 52 rushes for 211 yards and three touchdowns for an average of just more than four yards per carry.
CovCath has done an outstanding job again disrupting opposing offenses in the 3-4 scheme. Senior defensive lineman Benjamin Dickhaus leads the way with 23 tackles including five and a half sacks.
"They are as team defense as anybody we've ever played," Weinrich said. "They remind me of Boyle County in terms of how the play. Their scheme is different. But every guy knows his job. They're completely confident in their job. They play fast because of that. There are no holes. You have to execute. They're not going to give you anything."
CovCath has one fumble recovery by junior defensive back Dallas Wirth and three interceptions. Schneider took one back 80 yards for a touchdown against Boone County.
The Colonels have won five in a row in the series. The last Highlands win came in the Class 5A region finals 44-22 on Nov. 20, 2015 in Fort Thomas. The Bluebirds lead the all-time series 49-22.