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Saturday, November 6, 2021

Covington Catholic Eliminates Highlands in Football Playoffs, 38-8

Colonels Pull Away in Second Half

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands sophomore running back Cam Giesler looks for running room in the playoff game at Covington Catholic on Friday.

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Head Coach Bob Sphire did not sugarcoat it after the loss.

The players and coaches for the Highlands Bluebirds football team (5-6 overall) knew the team that controlled the line of scrimmage would win this rivalry game. It did not happen for the Blue and White in a 38-8 loss in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs to the host Covington Catholic Colonels (8-3).

Covington Catholic put up 453 yards of total offense including 369 on the ground pulling away in the second half. Highlands could not match it putting up just 161 yards offensively including one on the ground.

The Colonels consistently opened holes for senior running back Reid Hummel and senior quarterback Preston Agee. Hummel rushed for 154 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown averaging between eight and nine yards per carry and Agee rushed for 144 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns averaging between six and seven yards per carry.

It did not help matters for Highlands that junior linebacker Sam Robinson left the game and did not return on the second play of the game. Sphire also said senior linebacker Eli LaFrange also could not play.

"When it rains, it pours. It is what it is," Sphire said. "(The Colonels) played their tails off, really just physically whipped us. We're not excuse-makers. It just points out that much more to me how much work we have to do in this offseason to get stronger. That's where the program really lost its way and we're going to get that back."

Highlands trailed just 10-0 at halftime. The Colonels scored just 96 seconds into the game when Agee scored from 46 yards out on a quarterback draw even though one of the coaches saw it coming and told players Agee was coming their direction. Senior kicker Eli Nally added his first of five point after touchdown kicks.

CovCath drove to the Highlands 3 in the final minute of the first half. But after failing to draw Highlands offsides, Nally booted a 19-yard field goal.

The Colonels used two long and sustained drives in the third quarter to build some distance. Hummel scored from 26 yards out and Agee added a 13-yard run to give CovCath a 24-0 lead.

Highlands scored with 9:45 left in the game to prevent the shutout. Sophomore quarterback Cam Bottom found sophomore wide receiver Matteo Matteoli for a 28-yard touchdown. Then Bottom found sophomore wide receiver Brody Benke for the two-point conversion to trim the margin to 24-8.

"Execution is what it is and part of it is we're young," said Hayden Sphire, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "I'm not using that as an excuse because we have some really good young players who can play varsity football and they've shown that all year. But in a rivalry playoff game like this, you can't afford to have a turnover. We had two and CovCath had zero. They beat us pretty good and that might not have affected the overall outcome. But early, we couldn't get anything going."

But CovCath added two more scores to put the game away. Agee scored from one yard out before senior running back Brayden Collins scored from one yard out in the fourth quarter.

Highlands sophomore running back Cam Giesler saw his first varsity action this year after finally being ruled eligible. Giesler started at Highlands as a freshman last year before transferring to CovCath. But Giesler returned to Highlands this year.

The process took time because Kentucky High School Athletic Association rules state players have to sit out a year if they play varsity then transfer unless they provide a valid reason such as a "bonafide change of address." Giesler rushed for 53 yards on eight carries for the Colonels last year.

Highlands will graduate 19 seniors from the team. They are LaFrange, Conner Barton, Aidan Halpin, Oliver Harris, Dylan Honchell, Jacob Hudson, George King, Henry King, Kaleb Kissee, Clayton Lloyd, Paxton Porter, Griffin Richter, Ivan Roller, Isaac Surrey, Jake Welch, Logan Henry, Jackson Higgason, Dawson Gauspohl and Mason Welsch.

Highlands still leads the all-time series against the Colonels, 49-25. The Colonels have won nine in a row in the series. The Bluebirds last beat CovCath, 44-22 in the region title game in Fort Thomas on Nov. 20, 2015.

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