|Bluebirds Off to First 3-0 Start Since 2014|
|PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands senior linebacker Isaac Surrey lands a hit in the 42-7 over Campbell County on Friday.|
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The solid work ethic and daily improvements continues to show under the Friday Night Lights for the Highlands Bluebirds football team.
The Bluebirds moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2014 with a convincing 42-7 win over the county rival Campbell County Camels (1-2 overall) on Friday in the first game at David Cecil Memorial Stadium. Highlands scored on its first two possessions and never looked back dominating the trenches.
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"Those are things to build off when you're putting the pieces together," said Bob Sphire, Highlands Head Coach. "That game is exactly what we needed. It was physical. We basically got 48 minutes of tackle drills. All the things we were able to do is hard to simulate in practice."
Campbell County tried to run the ball downhill in the Spread attack. But the Bluebirds made sure the Camels did not develop any consistency with it in the trenches.
"To be honest, we've been practicing hard. We've been scouting (the Camels)," said Eli LaFrange, Highlands senior linebacker. "We do that every week. It's a process and we take it week by week. It's a great win. But it's done. We have to focus on the next week."
Highlands junior quarterback Charlie Noon again led the way in the Spread offense completing 13-of-17 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 33 yards on nine carries. Senior wide receiver Jake Welch had four catches for 36 yards and a punt return for a touchdown with sophomore wide receiver Davis Hinegardner garnering 93 yards receiving on four receptions.
"It was a great block by (sophomore wide receiver) Carson (Class)," Hinegardner said. "That's what Highlands football has always been about - getting the skill guys in space and letting them run. Our coaches have done a great job with building the playbook around the players. Coach Hayden called a great game."
The Highlands offensive staff has been trying to see more production from the running backs. Junior running back Dawson Hosea had 46 yards rushing on nine carries.
The Bluebirds started the game on their own 32 and drove down the field. Noon found senior wide receiver Oliver Harris for a 12-yard touchdown with 9:02 left in the first quarter.
After Campbell County went three and out, the Bluebirds took over at their own 49 with 7:17 left in the first quarter. On 4th-and-1, sophomore Brody Benke scored from a yard out and junior Davis Burleigh made his second of six point after touchdown kicks to put the Bluebirds up 14-0 with 4:18 left in the quarter.
Welch put the Bluebirds up three scores later in the quarter. He took a punt from the Campbell County 39 and broke free for a touchdown with 1:16 left putting Highlands up 21-0.
"We're built for four quarters," said Hayden Sphire, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "We came out hot in the first quarter then kind of sputtered, hit a lull in the second quarter offensively. Then we came out third quarter and we just decided we were going to assert our dominance in the run game. We spent that whole drive and I think we only threw it twice so I was really pleased to see us drive down the field running the ball. I thought it was a result of our work in the weight room, our work in the offseason running stadiums, our endurance, just physically from where we were in March to now. We've come leaps and bounds. But we still have a long way to go."
It did not appear either team would score in the second quarter. But junior defensive back Ryan DeBurger changed that intercepting a Campbell County pass and scoring from 34 yards out to give the Bluebirds a 28-0 lead at halftime.
"It mainly started with (Highlands assistant coach Kris) Nevels' alignment," DeBurger said. "I was probably 10 yards off (the line of scrimmage) and he told me to scoot up and put me in the exact position to make the play."
The main players stayed in the game through the third quarter. Benke scored his second touchdown with 5:14 left in the third quarter hauling in an 8-yard pass from Noon giving Highlands a 35-0 advantage.
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"Really, I thought (Campbell County) had a good game plan," Hayden Sphire said. "They were going to stay up top and not let us take our shots (downfield). We're still going to try and we did. That resulted in an interception and that can happen in a game. Our offensive line is athletic. I was really pleased watching them get out and run on screens. Their blocking on outside zones was great all night. We were down a lineman or two so guys stepped up and played the whole game. They played well, missed an assignment here and there. But that happens. I was really pleased with our run game (Friday)."
Sophomore quarterback Cam Bottom took over the offense completing 5-of-9 passes for 87 yards and one touchdown to Hinegardner. Hinegardner took the ball on the left side and dashed 70 yards down the left sideline to put the Bluebirds up 42-0 and enforce the running clock.
"It's still crazy," Bottom said of the Friday Night Lights. "The first play I went, I was quite nervous. I had the adrenaline going. But the first throw felt good. I just look forward to every single week. We don't let up. We go out there and give our A game every single game."
Campbell County prevented the shutout with 6:46 left in the game. Junior running back Ayden Bauwens scored from 20 yards out and Josh Rittinger made the extra point for the Camels.
Highlands is still a plus-five in the turnovers. Both teams had one interception.
"These kids are awesome. They're having a blast," Bob Sphire said. "I'm having a blast. We're not naive. We know we have to get a lot better, too. We were fortunate enough to open up with a win (over Bowling Green) over one of the more highly respected teams in our Class (5A) that's won multiple state championships and is the defending state champion so we know right there that we are at least in the hunt with anybody. If we just keep getting better, some good things can potentially happen."
The Bluebirds converted 5-of-8 on third down for 63 percent, 1-for-2 on fourth down for 50 percent and had four penalties for 40 yards. The Camels converted just 2-for-9 on third down for 22 percent, 0-for-3 on fourth down and had five penalties for 55 yards.
The Highlands Special teams did a good job not giving the Camels short field position. Players like sophomore Carson Shelton hustled down the field on kickoffs and punts limiting Campbell County's return yards.
"I'm just thinking about how fast I'm running and I'm thinking about where I have to go, who we have to go through down there," Shelton said. "I have to think about where the ball is going and how to rip underneath (a blocker). Then you have to go attack the ball carrier. I think we've come a long way on special teams."
The Bluebirds travel across the river Friday to take on the Cincinnati McNicholas Rockets in a battle of 3-0 teams. Game time is 7 p.m.