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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Highlands Gives Valiant Effort in Playoff Loss at Covington Catholic

Colonels Score 28 Straight to Pull Away in Second Half

Twitter Photo. The Highlands Bluebirds football team lost 38-21 at Covington Catholic in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday.

Editor Note: There will be no video highlights for this game.

The scoreless skid at Wooten Field stopped Friday. But unfortunately for the Highlands Bluebirds football team (5-6 overall), the losing streak against the defending Class 5A state champion Covington Catholic Colonels (9-1) did not.

Highlands took its first lead over the Colonels in two years at 14-10 with 7:26 left in the third quarter. Sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon scored from 14 yards out and sophomore kicker Davis Burleigh booted the second of three extra-point attempts.

"That was definitely a good feeling,"
said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We worked hard to put ourselves in that position. It was a great play by Charlie on fourth down."

But Covington Catholic responded scoring the game's next 28 points behind the legs of three-year senior starting quarterback Caleb Jacob on the way to a 38-21 victory in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. Jacob scored all five CovCath touchdowns rushing for 95 yards on 16 carries for an average of just under six yards per carry. Junior running back Brayden Collins rushed for 80 yards on 10 carries averaging eight yards per touch for CovCath.

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"There was no wearing down. (CovCath) found a groove offensively,"
Weinrich said. "We could never win field position. Their kickoff team did a good job when they did score putting it down in the end zone, putting us on the 20 and made it difficult to drive the field every time."

The Colonels extended their winning streak to a school-record seventh straight over the Bluebirds. This also marked the first time in school history CovCath has recorded consecutive playoff wins over Highlands.

During this losing streak, Highlands has led CovCath just twice. The other time came when Highlands scored first with 11:57 left in the first half to go up 7-0 during the regular season match-up on Oct. 12, 2018 when then-senior quarterback Grady Cramer hit then-junior wide receiver Hunter Ahlfield for a two-yard touchdown.

CovCath outgained Highlands, 353-256 including 253-218 on the ground. The Colonels ran 61 plays averaging just under six yards per play to 59 plays for the Bluebirds for an average of between four and five yards per play.

The Colonels also did better on third and fourth down converting 4-of-10 on third for 40 percent and 2-of-3 on fourth for 67 percent. The Bluebirds converted 4-of-12 on third down for 33 percent and 2-of-4 on fourth down for 50 percent.

Noon put together another great game rushing for 148 yards on 25 carries for an average of just under six yards per play and a touchdown. Senior Dominic Robinson added 48 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.

The difference between the two is CovCath had more balance. Jacob completed 8-of-16 passes for 100 yards. Senior wide receiver Ethan Reardon had two for 51 yards and senior Ryan Schneider had four catches for 21 yards.

The Bluebirds only had 38 passing yards in the loss. Noon completed 3-of-11 passes with one touchdown pass of 12 yards to senior running back Jake Fahlbusch and an interception. Highlands sophomore wide receiver Ryan DeBurger had one catch for 21 yards and senior Patrick Clukey had one for five yards.

Weinrich pointed out the Bluebirds started five sophomore offensively. That includes DeBurger at wide receiver and Wilson Bibb on the offensive line.

"We just tried to spread everything out and did a whole lot of no-back stuff," Weinrich said. "We tried to let our athletes be athletes and tried to get space. They responded well to it."

Robinson scored from a two yards out with 5:11 left in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7. That score broke a long scoreless drought for the Bluebirds in games played at Wooten Field. That string extended 15-plus quarter and exactly 184 minutes, 51 seconds for three shutouts in the series against the Colonels in Park Hills.

The touchdown tied the game at 7-7. CovCath saw senior kicker Trey Gronotte boot a 28-yard field goal before the half ended to put the Colonels up 10-7. Jacob scored from one yard out and Gronotte hit his first of five PATs to give CovCath a 7-0 lead with 5:32 left in the first quarter.

The Colonels led 38-14 with 3:28 left in the game. Jacob scored on touchdown runs of 19, eight, 11 and four yards to build the CovCath margin.

But the Bluebirds made the score respectable when Noon hit Fahlbusch for a 12-yard touchdown in the game's final minutes. Highlands has scored just 35 points against CovCath in the last six meetings.

This marked the final game for 21 Highlands seniors. They are Fahlbusch, Clukey, Robinson, running back/linebacker Mason South, linebacker Jack Cavanaugh, wide receiver/defensive back Jason Noe, defensive back Jacob Buecker, wide receiver Chase Hoffmann, defensive back Luke Koenig, defensive back Daniel Buchanan who had a fumble recovery in the game, defensive back Bryson Cody, wide receiver/defensive back Thomas Kempf, defensive linemen Conner Shelton, Braden Baioni, Vance Moore, Brendan Nickelman, Jackson Roy, offensive linemen Charlie Moore, Jake Arthur, Trevor Harms and Chase Gordon.

"They did a great job doing everything that was asked of them," Weinrich said. "They were starting to come together and figure everything out. I just wish we could have had more time in the beginning to get everybody ready. When you get a group like we had this year, you just hate for it to be over. You just want to keep practicing and playing games with them." 

Highlands fell to 49-24 all-time against the Colonels with the loss. The last Highlands win against the blue Colonels came in the Class 5A region finals by a 44-22 score on Nov. 20, 2015. The Bluebirds are 4-7 against CovCath since Weinrich became head coach in 2014.

The Coronavirus 2019 pandemic forced the start of the season back three weeks. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association pushed the playoffs back a week for safety precautions when cases started to rise. Highlands still played nine games over the course of the regular season while many teams across the state did not.

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