|Bluebirds Post Second Straight District Shutout|
|PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands senior linebackers Mason South (2) and Jack Cavanaugh (3) pursue a Boone County skill position player in the 43-0 shutout Friday.|
The standard for the Highlands Bluebirds football team is dominance from the moment the ball kicks off.
It turned into a matter of when during the first few weeks of the unusual 2020 season that saw no scrimmages and a shortened, delayed season as a result of Coronavirus 2019. But it appears the Bluebirds (3-2 overall) hit it during Class 5A, District 5 play. Highlands posted its second straight shut-out of such competition with a 43-0 blanking of the Boone County Rebels (1-4) on Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
Highlands hit the running clock against the Rebels in the second half. The Bluebirds hit the running clock, which is a 36-point or more lead at any point during the game, in the first half in the 36-0 blanking of Conner (3-1) Saturday.
The Bluebirds spent the first three games trying to find their identity for this season. They appear to have found a lot of that in the form of balanced offense, fast-flying defense and nice special teams play.
"The defense played lights out again," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "They're trusting their keys. They're playing hard. They're playing together and they're just making plays. Defensively, when you can play fast and key fast, you make things happen. They're all starting to understand their position's role, the guy next to them. They're all starting to gel together as a group."
Highlands put up 314 yards of total offense on 43 plays against Boone County for an average of just more than seven yards per play and held the Rebels to just 108 yards on 56 plays for an average of just under two yards per play. The Bluebirds also had 14 first downs to just six for the Rebels.
But the Bluebirds 3-5 defense rose to the occasion both times against Boone County's Shotgun-Spread attack. They had eight tackles for a loss including five sacks. Highlands senior defensive lineman Vance Moore led the way with two sacks with sophomore linebacker Sam Robinson, senior defensive lineman Conner Shelton and sophomore linebacker Carson Schwalbach recording one sack each. Schwalbach had two tackles for a loss.
Boone County did take over at the Highlands 40 to start the game after Highlands fumbled on the opening kickoff return as both teams had one turnover. The Rebels also blocked a punt deep in Highlands territory at the end of the first quarter. But Highlands senior defensive back Daniel Buchanan intercepted a Boone County pass and returned it to the other side of the field setting up a Highlands touchdown.
"That was huge because they were driving down the field," Buchanan said. "We needed a stop. Then we flipped the field completely. It helped out the offense a lot. We all understand what the goal is and what we need to do. It's all about us. That's why we're gaining the momentum."
Boone County's leading rusher in sophomore Jeremiah Williams did not play. He had 212 yards rushing on 31 carries and three touchdowns in the previous three games including 207 yards in Boone County's lone win against Scott, 28-22 in overtime on Sept. 18.
The Rebels played sophomore Richard West at quarterback in the first half and sophomore Jamarion Hocker in the second half. West led the Rebels with 40 yards rushing on 15 carries including a 21-yard run.
"They've shown on film the last couple weeks they've moved the ball," Weinrich said. "We really worked this week on some of the stuff they were trying to do. We were proud of see how our guys responded in terms of understanding their fits and making them earn every yard they got."
The balance out of the Highlands Spread offense started with more solid offensive line play allowing sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon to lead the attack that saw five players have rushes of 11 or more yards and five players with catches of 11 or more yards.
"Our whole o-line played well. We had really good blocks," said Adam Bowman, Highlands sophomore offensive lineman. "There were very few mistakes as a whole. On out outside zone plays, our coaches the entire week and the entire year have been preaching to us to get downfield and get off the ball and get to the next level. I think we did a great job of that. We were able to push them back and that let to a lot of great runs."
Highlands put up 174 yards passing with Noon completing 11-of-15 passes for that total and four touchdowns and 140 rushing. Noon led the way there going for 54 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown for nearly 5.5 yards per carry. Senior running back Mason South had 50 yards rushing on five carries including a 31-yard scamper for an average of 10 yards per touch.
Senior Jake Fahlbusch had a 22-yard touchdown run just 20 seconds into the second quarter to put the Bluebirds up 19-0 following sophomore kicker Davis Burleigh's point-after touchdown.
"That's what it comes down to. That's the ability to come out and practice," Weinrich said. "We have (seven) weeks of practice and (five) games under our belt. That's just been huge. We're able to do some film time and things like that. We weren't able to do that for a while. That's been able to help us grow offensively."
Junior wide receiver Jake Welch led Highlands with two catches for 85 yards and a touchdown with junior wide receiver Oliver Harris recording two catches for 39 yards. Senior wide receiver Jason Noe and junior wide receiver Isaac Surrey had two catches and a touchdown and senior wide receiver Patrick Clukey had an 11-yard touchdown from Noon with 6:55 left in the first half to give the Bluebirds a 19-0 lead.
"We have a ton of different people who can play anywhere we want," Surrey said. "It takes only a couple days to learn our offense. People have to adapt to that. You can't focus on one player watching film and understanding what he does. As soon as he runs a fade (route), we have another player coming in for him."
Special teams helped Highlands dominate field position. Senior Dominic Robinson had two punt returns for 58 yards including a 49-yard return.
Burleigh made 10-of-10 PATs entering the game. Boone County blocked the first attempt. But Burleigh did connect on a 35-yard field goal to end the first half and put the Bluebirds up 29-0 at halftime for his first made field goal of the season.
"The field goal was nice. It would have helped had we made (the first PAT)," Burleigh said. "But the field goal really helped us. We'll get them. The first kick is always the biggest. It felt good."
Highlands scored the first touchdown with 8:43 left in the first quarter. Noon completed a long pass to Harris down the left side before scoring on a read-option from a yard out. Noon found Noe from 19 yards out near the right post with 5:30 remaining. The conversion run failed leaving Highlands up 12-0
After Buchanan's interception leading to Fahlbusch's touchdown run, South broke free for a long run drawing a horse-collar tackle. Noon then found Clukey for the 19-yard touchdown pass to put Highlands up 26-0.
Highlands scored the other two touchdowns in the third quarter. Noon fired a long bomb 55 yards down the field between two Boone County defenders to Welch for the score with 6:30 left to give Highlands the 36-0 advantage and enforce the running clock.
Robinson had a long punt return after that. That set up a Noon five-yard touchdown pass to Surrey with 1:35 left in the quarter.
The Rebels also had more penalties than the Bluebirds. Boone County had six for 55 yards compared to four for 47 yards for Highlands including one that nullified a Noon touchdown run.
The Bluebirds can now turn their attention to the arch-rival Covington Catholic Colonels (4-0), who had a bye week Friday. Highlands has lost five straight to the blue Colonels. CovCath is 48-1 since the start of 2017 with three straight appearances in the Class 5A state championship winning it in 2017 and 2019.