|G. Michael Graham. Highlands defensive back Griffin Urlage (20) knocks away a Ben Dressman pass during Friday's Class 4A regional championship game against Covington Catholic. The Bluebirds beat the Colonels for the 11th straight time, 28-13.|
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
One can have an opinion either way as to whether it is still a rivalry or not.
Many say it is not because the Highlands Bluebirds have won 11 in a row over the Covington Catholic Colonels dating back to a 25-15 Colonel victory in Park Hills on Nov. 11, 2006 when current Cincinnati Moeller Head Coach John Rodenberg roamed the sidelines. Among those that say it is not is former Highlands and current University of Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles. Towles tweeted “No” to former Highlands teammates Blake Newman tweeted, “If you win 11 straight, is it really still a rivalry?” Highlands and CovCath have won a combined 29 state championships.
While that may be a valid argument, the numbers inside the streak show that CovCath is still just as much a threat to dethrone the Bluebirds from their throne as anyone. Highlands has beaten CovCath by an average of 24.6 points to move to 45-17 all-time during the run.
“You have to give CovCath a lot of credit,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “They played a tough game slowing us down.”
But since Dave Wirth became Colonel Head Coach in 2009, only three of the eight meetings have been separated by more than 15 points. In fact, Highlands edged CovCath, 27-20 in 2010 and the closest call came in Park Hills by a 42-37 count in 2011 when Towles was a senior.
Current Dixie Heights Head Coach Dave Brossart had three rough meetings against Highlands including two shutouts. The Bluebirds beat the Colonels by an average of 38.3 points during Brossart’s two years in Park Hills.
Highlands improved to 26-6 against CovCath since Mueller took over in 1994. CovCath beat Highlands twice in 1994 and 2006. But the other two losses occurred in the playoffs in 1997 in the regional championship and 2001 in the second round.
The year’s senior class of 31 became the third consecutive class not to lose to CovCath on Friday nights in their four years of high school. They finished 7-0 against the Colonels and last year’s class finished 6-0 with Towles’ class going 5-0.
“It definitely adds pressure with every class,” said Seth Hope, Highlands senior defensive lineman. “I’m just glad we weren’t the one to break the streak. It feels great to keep the tradition alive. I never lost to the Colonels and that’s a great thing I’ll be able to say for the rest of my life.”
Highlands will play the fourth straight rematch from last year’s state championship run. The Bluebirds also beat Boyd County and Ashland at home to open the playoffs.
The Bluebirds will take on the Lexington Catholic Knights (10-3) for the third straight year in the Class 4A semifinals. Highlands smashed LexCath, 61-28 in Fort Thomas last year after doubling the Knights, 42-21 in Lexington in 2011. Lexington Catholic beat Mercer County, 49-14 for the Region 3 title on Friday.
Highlands could also play the same opponent in the state title game. Collins (11-2) beat North Oldham (42-14) for the Region 2 championship, but travels to Owensboro on Friday. Owensboro knocked off Franklin-Simpson, 21-13 for the Region 1 championship.
Seeking record to themselves:
If Highlands wins the next two games to claim its 23rd state championship, the Bluebirds will have the state record for the most championships in Kentucky to themselves.
They are still tied with Louisville Trinity for 22. But Louisville Male and Head Coach Chris Wolfe knocked off Louisville St. Xavier (23-21) and Trinity (31-7) in consecutive weeks.
This will mark the first time since Male’s last title in 2000 that neither Trinity or St. Xavier will win the largest class in Kentucky. No one outside Louisville has won the largest class since Nelson County beat Lexington Paul Dunbar (35-34) in overtime in 1996.
New champ also to be crowned in 3A:
Undefeated Wayne County (13-0) ventured to Louisville Central and took down the Yellowjackets, 17-7 in the regional championship on Friday. Central had won five of the past six 3A crowns.
The only year Central had not won it was 2009 when Paducah Tilghman beat the Yellowjackets, 24-21 in the state semifinals. That marked the earliest exit for Central since 2005.
Wayne County has to head to Paducah Tilghman on Friday in the state semifinals. The Blue Tornado (8-5) have won seven straight since starting the year 1-5 including a 42-25 defeat to Highlands on Sept. 21.
Major opportunity to catch Valdosta:
Highlands has a huge opportunity to gain some ground against Valdosta for the title of most wins in school history.
The Wildcats of South Georgia lost in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs to finish the year at 6-5. They are 882-214-34 since starting their program in 1913.
Highlands improved to 854-226-26 with Friday’s win. The Bluebirds still have 21 more wins than the second-winningest program in Kentucky. Louisville Male is second with 833 all-time wins.