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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Highlands Throttles Cooper; Playoffs on the Horizon

Bluebirds Control Lines of Scrimmage in Win

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior quarterback Charlie Noon (1) scores from one yard out in the second quarter. Offensive linemen such as Ivan Roller (63) and Carson Schwalbach (56) paved the way for him and the other Highlands skill position players to a tune of 345 yards of total offense.

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Weeks of continuous improvement, especially in the previous two games, paid off in a big way Friday for the Highlands Bluebirds football team.

The Bluebirds (5-5 overall) ventured to Union and throttled the Cooper Jaguars (6-3), 35-7 in their biggest win of the season. Covington Catholic's 27-7 win over Conner allowed the Colonels to clinch another outright Class 5A, District 5 regular season championship. The Bluebirds, Jaguars and Cougars all finished 2-2 in district meaning the Ratings Percentage Index will determine playoff seedings in a similar scenario to last year.

Cooper Head Coach Randy Borchers commended the Jaguars for controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball entering the game. But the Bluebirds did that for the most part in this one.

The Highlands 3-4 defense held Cooper to 104 yards rushing and just 121 passing for 225 yards offensively on 67 plays for an average of between three and four yards per play. The Bluebirds mainly had to focus on senior running back Brendon Tye, who came into the game with 908 yards rushing on 105 carries and 12 touchdowns for an average of between eight and nine yards per carry. 

"It started off with the tackling," said TreVaughn Woods, Highlands junior defensive lineman. "We're picking it up. We're doing our tackling drills in practice. Obviously, it's paying off. We're starting to run and get in the backfield. Everyone's flying around and having fun."

Cooper's other solid running back in junior Eli White stood on the sidelines in crutches and did not play against Boone County. White has 603 yards on 92 carries and 10 touchdowns for an average of between six and seven yards per carry.

The Jaguars lined up in various formations including the I-formation, the Power-I and unbalanced sets. Tye finished with 93 yards on 25 carries for an average of between three and four yards per carry. But Highlands made him earn everything having not forgotten that Cooper rushed for 401 yards in a 48-22 win in Fort Thomas last year.

"(Tye) is a really good football player," said Bob Sphire, Highlands Head Coach. "They've really moved the ball well on people all year. They've played physical offensively. They've also mixed it up with play-action throw. We've played really well the last couple weeks defensively." 

Tye broke free for a 15-yard run in the third quarter. But Highlands senior defensive back Isaac Surrey held on to make the tackle preventing a touchdown.

The Jaguars had to go to the air more playing from behind. Senior quarterback Drew Warth completed 13-of-24 passes for the 121 yards. 

The Jaguars did have some issues with the snaps. Junior Charlie Noon and senior defensive back George King both picked him off. King said the Bluebirds tried to contain the Cooper corner routes.

"We knew it was going to be a wet (game with the constant drizzle)," King said. "The whole conversation before coming out this game was it's about who gets the least turnovers, who gets the most turnovers. That's really what we were focusing on. When you see the ball on the ground, you have to dive for it. You can't leave it up to the refs."

King also had a fumble recovery as Highlands won the turnover battle, 3-0. King's fumble recovery at the Cooper 9 set up the second Highlands touchdown. Noon battled for eight tough yards down to the Cooper 1 before going outside for the score. The Bluebirds led 14-0 with 5:20 left in the first half at that point.

The Bluebirds put up 347 yards of total offense with 195 passing and 152 rushing on 44 plays for an average of between seven and eight yards per play. Highlands started sophomore Cam Bottom at quarterback and mainly put Noon at running back. Noon finished with 12 carries for 128 yards and three scores for an average of just more than 10 yards per touch.

"We talked about it all week coming out of the CovCath game. We're right there. We're knocking on the door really every week," said Hayden Sphire, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "It's time for us to learn how to win those games. We barged through the door. I thought this was a good close to a turbulent, but very beneficial season for these kids learning how to win."

Highlands junior offensive lineman Adam Bowman said the Bluebirds had a lot of success running plays such as outside zone. Bowman waited anxiously for a week to get back on the field. Bowman took responsibility for letting Covington Catholic senior defensive lineman Trevor Wilson come through for a clean block of a 30-yard field goal try in the game's final minute in the 8-7 loss to the Colonels a week ago in Fort Thomas.

"To be honest about it, I took it really hard for two days. But then I moved on," Bowman said. "I won't ever let that happen again."

Bottom completed 11-of-21 passes for the 195 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Davis Hinegardner had two catches for 65 yards. Noon had three catches for 14 yards.

Neither team scored in the first quarter. But on the third Highlands possession, Noon broke free for a dazzling 74-yard touchdown run and junior kicker Davis Burleigh made his first of five extra-point attempts. Burleigh has made 34-of-35 PATs on the season.

"I credit the offensive line and my holder (junior Ryan DeBurger)," Burleigh said. "They get it right. I get it right. We just flow together. Momentum carries through."

The Bluebirds received the ball back up 14-0 with 2:22 left in the half. But they received a big play when Bottom found sophomore wide receiver Carson Class for a 55-yard pass play to the Cooper 1. Noon took it in on the next play to put the Bluebirds up 21-0 with 38 seconds left in the first half.

"Obviously, this was Cam (Bottom's) first start and nerves come with that," Hayden Sphire said. "He's a sophomore quarterback. But he has a ton of talent and a ton of potential. We missed a few (deep shots) early. Everyone literally said we're going to hit them. Keep throwing them. Eventually, he settled down and we connected. It showed on the scoreboard."

On the first possession of the second half, Cooper took the ball and drove to the Highlands 27. But a sack left the Jaguars at 4th-and-17 from the Highlands 36 forcing a Cooper punt.

"There were times as defensive coordinator where I was bringing the thunk and bringing the heat and there were times where we were keeping everything in front of us,"
Bob Sphire said. "I thought we mixed it up really well. We've put some things together in the last couple weeks. I hope we're peeking at the right time."

The Bluebirds took over at their own 1-yard-line. But Noon broke free for 24 yards to the 25 giving the Bluebirds breathing room. Following a pass interference call, Bottom found Hinegardner in the middle and down the left sideline for a 57-yard touchdown to put Highlands up 28-0.

"No one on the team is point fingers on who wants to take the ball," Noon said. "We're just going to score however we can. We're just going to celebrate the same every time no matter who scores. It's all about having fun out there."

But the Jaguars responded. Warth found his top target in senior wide receiver Xavier Smith for a 16-yard touchdown with 2:18 left in the third quarter. That trimmed the Highlands lead to 28-7.

Highlands scored it's final touchdown with 10:24 left in the game. Bottom found sophomore wide receiver Brody Benke for a 19-yard touchdown on a go route to make the final score.

The Bluebirds have their bye week before the playoffs begin. They will not know their opponent until after next week as CovCath, Conner and Cooper have non-district games. They find themselves percentage points out of the third playoff spot just behind Conner.

Box Score:

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