|Welch Records Five Catches for 71 Yards|
|PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands assistant coach Mark Dill goes over some things during the scrimmage Friday against Louisville Male.|
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The Louisville Male Bulldogs led by Head Coach and Highlands alum Chris Wolfe have won Kentucky's largest Class 6A football state championships in 2015 and 2018.
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Wolfe and the Bulldogs came to Fort Thomas to scrimmage the Highlands Bluebirds and expose some things in the first season under Head Coach Bob Sphire. Highlands learned some vital lessons in the 41-7 loss. The freshmen teams played first before the varsity played three regular quarters then the junior varsity teams played an 18-minute running clock fourth quarter.
Male outgained Highlands, 345-185 in total offense in the varsity match-up. The Bulldogs ran 42 plays averaging just more than eight yards per play and the Bluebirds ran 50 averaging 3.7 yards per play.
"We still have a long way to go to get stronger," Sphire said. "There is no question that the disparity in the strength in their players and where we still are with our strength. But we've gotten a lot stronger. I'm disappointed and I'm frustrated. But I'm not discouraged. I knew what we were going to be facing and I choose to play it as a legitimate, full-blown game because I wanted to know exactly where we were and I kind of thought this was where we were. But knowing where you are is better than believing you're somewhere you're not."
But Sphire said he believes in what this team can become. He also liked the results coming from the speed, agility and quickness that showed in terms of playing a 48-minute game against a state power.
"We have to tackle so much better," Sphire said. "We were arm-tackling a lot. They were running through our arm tackles. Our guys need to be able to make a one-on-one tackle. Our guys will get there. I thought our guys ran to the ball-carrier pretty well. But we couldn't tackle him by ourselves. We couldn't tackle him a lot of times with two or three guys. We're just going to keep working. The only failure in failing is if you fail to face the reality and choose to improve off of the reality of what was exposed when you fail. We're not going to ignore the reality of why we failed (Friday)."
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The route started when sophomore Max Gainey returned the opening kick back 98 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff. Male led 21-0 before Highlands earned a first down when junior quarterback Charlie Noon rushed for 12 yards.
Noon led Highlands rushing for 1,089 yards last year. But Male held the Bluebirds to just 42 yards rushing.
Highlands did not score until the third quarter. Sophomore Brody Benke came in to play quarterback and hit senior Jake Welch on some passes. He then found sophomore Carson Class for the touchdown and junior Davis Burleigh made the point-after kick. Male led 35-7 at that point. Male played a lot of press coverage on the wide receivers.
"We hope to obviously score a lot more this season," Class said. "That just opened up the offense. We needed it to give the defense energy and finish out the game strong."
Welch led Highlands offensively with five catches for 71 yards. He had nearly half of the Highlands receiving yards.
"I think we did a lot of good things," said Hayden Sphire, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "It was really good for us to get out on the field with them and just compete. I think early, we were shell-shocked. We waited for somebody to go and make a play instead of going to make a play. I think we settled in on both sides of the ball once Jake (Welch) made those two plays. But we can't wait for someone to make a play. This is the first time we've ran our systems here."
The Bluebirds do have plenty of plays they can build off. Junior Noah Hodge had an interception with 6:42 left and junior Adam Dunn batted away a Male pass in the first quarter.
"Getting a play like that obviously feels good," Hodge said. "But at the end of the day, we're not where we need to be. We need to get better and better every week. We need to have more confidence and play our hearts out every down."
Highlands has a Blue/White scrimmage on Aug. 13. The Bluebirds open the season against the Class 5A defending state champion Bowling Green Purples in the Rafferty's Bowl at Western Kentucky University on Aug. 21. Game time is 6 p.m. Central Standard Time.