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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ryle Overpowers Highlands in Fort Thomas

Bluebirds Battled Raiders Entire Game

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands sophomore wide receiver Mateo Matteoli dives into the end zone in the fourth quarter against Ryle.

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The Highlands Bluebirds football team may have been overmatched in this home game particularly in the trenches.

But Highlands (3-2 overall) still found itself in the game in the fourth quarter. But the Bluebirds could not take advantage of the opportunity in a 27-13 loss to the Ryle Raiders (4-1) in non-district play.

"We just have to keep working," said Bob Sphire, Highlands Head Coach. "That was one of those games where Ryle clearly deserved to win. I give (the Raiders) all the credit in the world. I'm a big believer that if you just keep working hard, good things are going to happen. We're playing against really good football teams. We just have to stay the course. Nobody needs to panic. The good thing is our kids never quit. They never disintegrated into anything into anything that resembled a lack of team. Nothing fixes this except just continuing to work the plan and we're going to do that."


Ryle put up 405 yards of total offense on 86 plays for an average of between four and five yards per play. Highlands had 240 yards offensively on 48 plays for an average of five yards per play. The Raiders had 28 first downs to eight for the Bluebirds.

Senior running back Nathan Yowan led the Raiders with 14 carries for 98 yards for an average of seven yards per carry. Sophomore quarterback Logan Verax completed 21-of-33 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Gavin Ruark had a team-high six catches for 130 yards.

"Ryle is a phenomenal football team and I think they're extremely underrated in 6A," said Hayden Sphire, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "I think they're going to be one of the teams in contention for a state championship. That doesn't mean that we played well. I didn't think we deserved to be in that game in the fourth quarter at all. We were fortunate enough to be. We have to learn to take advantage of those opportunities. You could tell the size and strength differences. Nobody said it was going to be a quick fix here. But I'm proud of the way our kids continued to fight throughout the game. That is Highlands football. It's a loss. But if we learn how to build off losses, it's going to be good for us in the long run."

Highlands junior quarterback Charlie Noon once again led Highlands completing 10-of-23 passes for 174 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Sophomore wide receiver Mateo Matteoli led the Bluebirds with three catches for 78 yards.

The Bluebirds had to make some adjustments without some key players offensively. Sophomore 6-foot-5-inch wide receiver Brody Benke could not play for the second straight week and senior speedy wide receiver Jacob Welch was also not able to play. Welch leads the Bluebirds with 19 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns.

"We have to find guys who can make plays and I thought we did (Friday),"
Hayden Sphire said. "Mateo Matteoli stepped up and made a few plays. (Sophomore) Carson Class plays both ways. He gets gassed. We have to manage that a little bit better. (Senior) Oliver Harris is still dinged up. Hopefully, he's back 100 percent next week and will be ready to go. (Senior) Clayton Lloyd is steady. We just have to put the pieces together. We'll get there."

The Raiders drove into Highlands territory on the first possession. But a penalty forced them to punt.

Neither team scored in the first quarter. But the Raiders pounded the ball between the tackles with their huge offensive line led by the liked of junior Drew Dickerson and Yowan scored from a yard out 32 seconds into the second quarter to put the Raiders up for good at 6-0 after a failed two-point conversion pass.

Ryle went up 13-0 after Verax found junior wide receiver Kaden Gardner for a 12-yard touchdown with 6:07 left in the second quarter. After senior placekicker Summer Denigan made the point-after kick for the Raiders, she tried an onside kick. But Highlands sophomore Carson Shelton pounced on it at the Ryle 48.

The Bluebirds struck for a big play with five minutes left in the half. Noon found Class streaking down the right sideline for a 37-yard touchdown reception. The two-point conversion pass failed leaving Ryle up 13-6.

"We came out of the gate and did some good things," Bob Sphire said. "I think that's great because that shows that we can beat anybody on any given night. But at the same time, we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of young kids that are playing. Nobody's going to panic."

But Ryle responded with another long and sustained drive. The Raiders finished it when senior Gabe Savage scored from four yards out to put Ryle up 20-6 at halftime.

The Raiders seemed to put the game away on the first drive of the second half. Junior Lukas Colemire found fellow junior Jayce Harden for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 8:05 left in the quarter to put Ryle up 27-6.

But the Bluebirds clamped down on the Raiders after that. Senior linebacker Jackson Higgason batted out a potential touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.

Highlands stuck again in the fourth quarter. Noon found Matteoli for an 18-yard touchdown on the left sideline and junior kicker Davis Burleigh made the PAT to make the final score.

The Bluebirds travel to Dixie Heights (2-2) in the final tune-up Friday before district play begins. Game time is 7 p.m.

Box Score:

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