By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
UNION – It has been a trademark of the Ryle Raiders.
They spread you out and put one or two running backs in the backfield and try to run the ball at different angles. Ryle came into the year with high expectations with the return of senior quarterback Nathan Davis.
But Davis has been injured a good portion of the year and the Raider offense has struggled. Ryle had eight guys carry the ball against Highlands on Friday. But the Bluebird defense held its own in the 58-13 victory. Davis did not play against Highlands.
The Raiders ran for just 210 yards on 63 carries for an average of 3.3 a touch. Tanner Paulice led the way with 59 yards on 26 carries averaging just more than 2.2 a touch.
“We were trying to get back and really stop the run,” said Matt Gall, Highlands sophomore defensive lineman. “We knew they were going to try to run against us after they saw the (Cincinnati) Elder film. I think we did a good job just playing hard and playing tough. Coach (Highlands defensive coordinator Brian) Weinrich emphasized getting in the backfield and driving them back when we tackled them.”
Playing in the Rain:
The rain kept a lot of people from the game Friday. The temperatures stayed in the 40s and 50s across Kentucky with heavy downpours. The rain came lightly during and after the game.
“I think we just started off slow,” said Jehad Henderson, Highlands senior linebacker. “It was a little cold and a little odd that there weren’t that many people here. It wasn’t our normal environment. But it’s something that has to be done. It’s something that we’ll hit off the bat in the playoffs.”
But that did not hurt Highlands overall. The Bluebirds turned the ball over four times to once for the Raiders. But Highlands still outscored Ryle, 7-0 in points off turnovers.
“It is different,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach of the weather. “You have to be able to handle playing with a wet football. We haven’t had much practice in that. We do that in the spring trying to play on wet, cold days. It was a good experience for us being in that situation.”
Injury Delay in Fourth Quarter:
The game was stopped with 8:34 left in the final stanza because of an apparent neck injury to Ryle senior Dylan Plvan.
The Highlands players asked for prayer on Twitter. The ambulance took Plvan to the hospital for precaution even though the announcer said he had movement.
Cheering for and against Covington Catholic:
The Highlands faithful let out a cheer when it was announced that Conner defeated Covington Catholic, 13-12. That dropped the Colonels to 7-3 overall.
But the Bluebirds could have a reason to cheer for the Colonels if the four host teams from Districts 7 and 8 advance past the first round of the 4A playoffs next week. That would put Ashland Blazer at Highlands and Covington Catholic at Johnson Central.
If Both Johnson Central and Highlands win, Johnson Central would be the host of the regional title game. But if Covington Catholic and Highlands meet for the region title, it would come back to Fort Thomas like last year.
Around District 7:
Overall, District 7 finished 3-2 Friday. Harrison County lost, 38-10 to Woodford County. But Covington Holmes and Pendleton County picked up wins.
The Bulldogs (6-4) dominated the in-town rival Holy Cross Indians, 50-0. The Indians (3-7) have struggled this year after winning the 2A state title last year.
Harrison County finished 1-9. But the Thorobreds won the one game they had to against Pendleton County, 28-0 to make the playoffs.
Highlands, Covington Catholic, Holmes and Harrison County automatically make the playoffs the next two years. Pendleton County has elected not to play in district action the next two seasons.
The Wildcats (2-8) finished the season on a high note. Pendleton County knocked off Bracken County, 26-14 to conclude the season and snap a four-game losing streak.
Around Class 4A:
The Warren East Raiders and Russell County Lakers needed wins Friday to finish as the only undefeated teams in 4A. They earned the perfect 10-0 marks. The Lakers took out Adair County, 66-14 and the Raiders beat Bullitt Central, 35-6.
It remains to be seen if Russell County can get past Boyle County (6-4) and Lexington Catholic (8-2) to the semifinals. The Rebels have won three in a row since the Sept. 28 loss at Lexington Catholic, 24-21.
The Knights battled undefeated Bowling Green (10-0) hard Friday in a 35-21 loss. Both of LexCath’s losses have come to undefeated teams. The Knights fell 62-14 to Nashville Ensworth (10-0), the two-time defending Tennessee Division II-AA champions on Aug. 25.