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Saturday, August 28, 2021

Highlands beats Simon Kenton 53-38, Moves to 2-0

Bluebirds Hold Off Pioneers in Shoot-Out

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands senior wide receiver Clayton Lloyd (11) secures a touchown reception against Simon Kenton on Friday as teammate Aidan Halpin (82) celebrates. Lloyd had two touchdown catches for 47 yards in the 53-38 Highlands victory.

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The Highlands Bluebirds football team has proven to be dangerous over the years when opponents have to defend the entire field.

Highlands (2-0) showed that explosive offensive power winning the shoot-out over the Simon Kenton Pioneers (0-2), 53-38 on Friday in a game delayed just under two hours because of lightning in the area. This marks the first 2-0 start for the Bluebirds since 2018.

"It's kind of modern day football," said Bob Sphire, Highlands Head Coach. "You have two really good quarterbacks with two really good schemes that they can execute in and make plays in. Jeff (Marksberry) does a really good job as the head coach (at Simon Kenton). We just had to keep holding on, fighting, clawing and scratching. We had our chances to put them away earlier. I don't know that team ever gets put away. We might be the same way because our kids play hard for 48 minutes."

Meet Ethan and the team.

The Bluebirds put up 600 yards offensively on 64 plays for an average of just under 10 yards per play. Highlands had 196 yards rushing, 404 passing and 24 first downs. 

Highlands junior quarterback Charlie Noon led the way completing 22-of-37 passes for that total with five touchdowns and one interception. Noon also had 13 carries for 161 yards and one touchdown for an average of between 12 and 13 yards per carry. Noon could not play in the season opening 21-18 win over Bowling Green.

"It was really good to have Charlie back," said Hayden Sphire, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "He's a leader of the offense and I thought it was really evident. He made a lot of big plays in third down situations where they had a chance to get us off the field and he broke a play. Receivers just made plays. We got them in space."

Highlands distributed the ball well. Senior wide receiver Jake Welch had nine catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Clayton Lloyd added two touchdown catches for 47 yards. Highlands sophomore Brody Benke had three catches for 34 yards with senior Sam Robinson recording two for 52 yards. Senior Oliver Harris and sophomore Davis Hinegardner had two each for 13 and 40 yards respectively. 

The Highlands defense may have allowed 596 yards offensively with 263 yards on the ground and 333 passing. But the Bluebirds defense did come up with crucial stops throughout the game recording six sacks of Simon Kenton junior quarterback Chase Crone

Highlands also won the turnover battle once again. Junior defensive back Ryan DeBurger had an interception to seal the deal late in the game and sophomore defensive back Carson Class scooped up a fumble on a lateral pass for a touchdown.

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The Simon Kenton Counter Trey Gap Zone Read Spread offensive scheme found its rhythm in the second quarter. Crone completed 17-of-36 passers for the 333 yards and four touchdowns including 10 to junior wide receiver Chase Williams for 168 yards. Junior running back Jayden Lawson had 25 carries for 233 yards for an average of just more than nine per carry. The Pioneers had 95 plays averaging more than six per carry.

"That's just what they do," Bob Sphire said. "The biggest thing was they figured out really how to handle some of our pressures and we couldn't get to the quarterback very well anymore. Early in the game, we got hits on him. We rushed (Crone). Once they figured out how to get their pass protection set, that made it hard for us."

The Bluebirds scored on their first possession and never looked back as the offensive line gave Noon time to make things happen. Noon found Lloyd for a 20-yard touchdown just 91 seconds into the game to put Highlands up 7-0.

Highlands held on defense stuffing out the runs in the first quarter. The Bluebird defensive lineman and linebackers penetrated the Simon Kenton backfield hitting Crone and Lawson.

"Our ends have to squeeze down and get the tackle," said TreVaughn Woods, Highlands junior lineman. "As long as we do our assignment and job, the D-line is going to be good this year. Our main issue was keeping outside contain."

Lloyd struck again from 27 yards out on a 4th-and-3 giving the Bluebirds a 14-0 advantage. Highlands junior kicker Davis Burleigh made his second of six extra-point kicks.

"We want to spread people out," Lloyd said. "When teams start expanding, we have the run game open there for us. Teams see Jake's speed and they underestimate the rest of us. If they double Jake, it leaves everyone else in man-to-man and (plays are) usually there."

Following a Simon Kenton score, Noon broke free for a 52-yard scamper with 4:14 left in the first half. He then hit Benke for a 13-yard touchdown and Harris hauled in the two-point conversion to put Highlands up 29-8 at halftime.

The Pioneers came out blazing in the second half scoring 17 straight to trim the margin to 29-25 with 3:19 left in the third quarter. Crone scored from 10 yards out to make that score.

"(Crone) really threw the ball well," Bob Sphire said. "When you have the running back that can get out on the edge that can stretch the defensive front, it's hard to send the backers to pressure because you have to honor the running back. Then he can scramble, keep plays alive and throw the ball even late. Sometimes with the way the game is played anymore, you have to outscore people."

But on a 3rd-and-long, Noon broke free for a 71-yard run setting Highlands up deep in Simon Kenton territory. He drew a personal foul penalty moving the ball to the Simon Kenton 11. Welch took the ball around the right end for the score to put the Bluebirds up 36-25.

"Coming out of the half, Simon Kenton was shutting us down," Hayden Sphire said. "Charlie broke than run on 3rd-and-9 and then we went and scored on that drive. On the sideline, I actually went up to Charlie and said, 'Thank You.' He just replied, 'That's what I do."

Burleigh booted a 24-yard field goal with 8:57 left in the game to put Highlands up 39-25. Then on the next possession, Class picked up a Simon Kenton dropped lateral and scored from 30 yards out to extend the Highlands lead to 46-25.

"(The long run) just got all of us going and opened up a lot more opportunities for the passing game," Noon said. "Every time we excel on offense, the defense will respond right with us. It's going to be tough to stop us. We have size. We have speed. We just have all-around playmakers."

But the Pioneers did not quit. Lawson caught a screen pass from Crone and darted 60 yards for the touchdown making it 46-32 Highlands with 7:30 left in the game.

"We have to get a lot better (defensively)," said Isaac Surrey, Highlands senior linebacker. "But we've been working hard, bonding well as a whole entire defense, playing extremely fast. I feel like we executed (Friday)."

Highlands responded when Welch caught a pass from Noon and weaved his way 52 yards for a touchdown to put the Bluebirds up 53-32 with 6:39 left in the game.

"Last week with our run-blocking, we struggled a bit," said Adam Bowman, Highlands junior lineman. "With our run-blocking, we stepped up. We were able to run the ball. Some of that was evidenced when we were able to run the clock out. I just think that was really big in helping us win."

Williams caught a 9-yard pass from Crone with 4:40 left in the game then recovered an onside kick. But the Bluebirds held on DeBurger's interception and the offense ran out the game.

Highlands plays host to Campbell County (1-1) on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.

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