|Bluebirds Battle Rebels in Next District Contest|
|Highlands junior wide receiver Clayton Lloyd (11) looks to block Conner sophomore defensive back Alijah Thompson (12) on Saturday. Highlands faces Boone County on Friday at 7 p.m. (Img: Ed Harbor)|
A limited number of general admission tickets are available for the varsity football this Friday vs Boone County. Check out www.highlandsathletics.com to purchase.
By G. Michael Graham
This Highlands Bluebirds football team took its lumps in the first three games of the year entering the season with a lot of inexperience.
But this team indicated it is ready to take some gigantic steps forward if the Bluebirds play like they did Saturday in the 36-0 blanking of the previously 2-0 Conner Cougars. Highlands is 2-2 overall in the shortened, later-starting season as a result of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic. But the important thing is Highlands is 1-0 in Class 5A, District 5 action.
Highlands began focusing on the daily improvement tasks not long after the huge victory. The Bluebirds know everything done during the week will be as important as last week leading into a potential trap game Friday against the Boone County Rebels (1-3) with the arch-rival Covington Catholic Colonels (4-0) on the horizon. Game time is 7 p.m. Friday at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
"(The players) are really tuning in to the film and understanding where we could have made a lot better decisions," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "They could have executed at such a higher level. We really should have been unstoppable on both sides of the ball. We really have to come out, fix those things, just keep executing and focus on being perfect."
Boone County comes into the game off a 45-7 defeat against Covington Catholic. The Rebels are 0-2 in district play. Their one win came 28-22 Sept. 18 in overtime against the host Scott Eagles (0-3). Former Ryle Head Coach and Covington Catholic assistant Bryson Warner is in his second season as head coach of the Rebels trying to turn around a once-proud program that has not had a winning season since 2011.
Highlands finally displayed the balance it had been seeking out of its Spread offense Saturday. Sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon completed 7-of-10 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown in addition to rushing for 90 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.
"We still have some missing gaps here and there that we need to fill," said Tom Kempf, Highlands senior wide receiver. "But overall, we're coming along great and we're going to be ready (Friday). There are a lot of moving parts to the offense. It's just little things here and there with the timing. One little thing can make a player mess it up."
Noon still leads the Bluebirds in rushing and passing. He's rushed for 425 yards on 77 carries for four touchdowns for an average of just more than 5.5 yards per carry and completed 22-of-40 passes for 279 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Noon has faced his fair share of pressure this year. Highlands quarterbacks coach Sam Umberg said the key to making plays in those situations is to not panic.
"Football is a game of trying to get people rattled," Umberg said. "We have some stuff built in offensively to where he can get out of it if he gets pressure and still be in a good position to make a throw. So far, our quarterbacks have done a really good job at it. We saw a really good look on Saturday."
A number of guys contributed on both sides in the win Saturday. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Jason Noe had a huge interception to stop a drive and had two catches for a team-high 68 yards including a 46-yard touchdown reception. Sophomore wide receiver Brennan Kelsay leads the Bluebirds with seven catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
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Highlands has rushed for 750 yards and passed for 373 behind a gelling offensive line for averages of 187.5 yards rushing and just more than 93 passing. Ten different Bluebirds have rushes this year and 10 have receptions. Senior linebacker/running back Mason South surpassed 100 yards rushing against Conner. South has 124 yards rushing on 25 carries for nearly five yards per carry. Highlands junior running back Griffin Richter has not played since the Ryle game.
The Highlands 3-5 defense made plays with four interceptions and sophomore linebacker Sam Robinson recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against Conner. The Bluebirds have seven interceptions led by two from senior defensive back Dominic Robinson and three fumble recoveries. Sam Robinson has a team-high two fumble recoveries and an interception.
The Bluebirds have allowed 581 yards rushing and 512 passing for averages of just more than 145 rushing and 128 passing on the season. The interceptions stopped some drives into Highlands territory in the win at Conner.
"We're still at the point where we have to focus on Highlands," Weinrich said. "We've been talking about (this). The only team that can stop Highlands is Highlands. That was the case again (Saturday). We did things to stop ourselves. I don't really care who the other team on the field is. We are the most important team on the field. We can control what we do."
Boone County has been outscored 146-43 on the season. The Rebels play a mixture of three and four-man fronts defensively. In the last three games, they have six fumble recoveries and five interceptions. Senior linebacker Blake Hessling has led the way with 28 tackles and two fumble recoveries during that time. Junior defensive back Skylar Sears has two interceptions in the last three games.
The Rebels have seen sophomore Jeremiah Williams emerge to lead the team in rushing in the last three games out of the Shotgun-Spread offense. Williams has 212 yards on 31 carries and three touchdowns for an average of just under seven yards per carry.
Boone County has tried two sophomores at quarterback in Richard West and Jamarion Hocker. Sears is the leading receiver in the last thee games with two catches for 66 yards. The Highlands defensive backs have consistently challenged passes this year along with the front eight putting pressure on quarterbacks.
"The key is to work hard, smart and together," said Luke Koenig, Highlands senior defensive back. "We have to trust each other on the field and we have to trust our keys, which makes it work."
Highlands is 39-3 all-time against Boone County. The Bluebirds have won the previous five meetings since the series resumed in 2015. The teams did not play each other between 2011 and 2014.