By G. Michael Graham
The Blue and White found itself beyond the opposing 30 a number of times Friday running 59 plays compared to 61 for the hosts.
But it seemed like once the Highlands Bluebirds football team (3-3 overall) reached that point, a negative or minimal gain occurred on first down. Plays later, the Bluebirds found themselves in 3rd-and-long situations and the drives stalled resulting in no points. That allowed the defending Class 5A Covington Catholic Colonels (5-0) to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 42-0 victory.
"It came down to execution," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We had plenty of chances to score. But we didn't get the job done."
Highlands has been shut out four of the six times during the current losing streak to CovCath. That includes a combined 130-0 in the three meetings in Park Hills. The Bluebirds lost 36-0 at CovCath in the region championship two years ago.
The biggest difference in the game came on third down. Highlands converted just 3-of-12 on third down for 25 percent and none of the five times on fourth down compared to 7-of-10 for 70 percent for the Colonels and 0-for-1 on fourth down.
The Colonels used their size up front to put up 450 yards of total offense on 61 carries for an average of more than seven yards per play including 347 yards on the ground. The Bluebirds had 254 yards for an average of just more than four yards per play. Both teams run various forms of the Spread offense.
The Bluebirds tried stunting a number of ways on the defensive line trying to beat the Colonel linemen through the gaps, but could not penetrate consistently to disrupt things in the back field. But Highlands managed just two quarterback sacks.
CovCath senior quarterback Caleb Jacob led the way with 81 yards rushing on nine carries and two touchdowns for an average of exactly nine yards per carry. Sophomore Ryan Schneider finished second with 74 yards on six carries.
Jacob also completed 7-of-14 passes for 103 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Senior wide receiver Ethan Reardon led the Colonels with six catches for 92 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon led Highlands again in rushing and passing. He had 53 yards rushing on 19 carries for an average of just under three yards per carry and completed 15-of-27 passes for 191 yards and one interception that came in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore Brennan Kelsay led the Bluebirds with six catches for 73 yards. Junior wide receiver Jake Welch had two catches for 46 yards with senior running back Mason South and junior wide receiver Clayton Lloyd recording three catches each.
The most frustrating of the stalled drives came at the end of the first half. Highlands senior defensive back Jason Noe picked off Jacob near the 50. The Bluebirds drove to the CovCath 8 with 14 seconds left, but could not spike the ball in time to run another play. Losing 30 seconds after driving inside the 25 cost the Bluebirds a timeout.
Highlands only trailed 14-0 at halftime. The Colonels took the opening kickoff and scored when Jacob scored from two yards out with 9:06 left in the first quarter.
The Bluebirds went for it on 4th-and-2 at their own 41, but Noon only gained a yard. CovCath drove down and tried a field goal that sailed wide left. The Colonels scored again with 14 seconds left in the first quarter when senior tight end Sam France punched it in from a yard out.
Highlands put together a drive early in the second quarter and sophomore Davis Burleigh tried a 34-yard field goal. But it went wide left.
The Colonels did drive to the Highlands 9 with 6:12 left in the first half. But a sack and CovCath personal foul forced the Colonels into 3rd-and-Goal from their own 37 leading to a punt.
The Colonels went up 21-0 with eight minutes left in the third quarter. Jacob broke free up the middle for a 31-yard touchdown.
CovCath pulled away in the fourth quarter with three touchdowns. Junior running back Brayden Collins started it with a two-yard touchdown run before Jacob found sophomore wide receiver Garrett Benke for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 5:35 remaining. Following the Highlands interception, junior quarterback Adam Holtz broke free for a 40-yard touchdown around the right side.
Highlands did receive some spark in kickoff returns. Highlands senior Dominic Robinson had two returns for 72 yards for an average of 36 yards per attempt.
Highlands plays host to Cooper (2-4) on Friday in Fort Thomas. Game time is 7 p.m.