|G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands quarterback Beau Hoge (7) sets up to throw deep in Friday's 71-69 win over Warren Central. Hoge completed 19-of-31 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns in the victory.|
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
When it comes to making a football schedule, Highlands Bluebird Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Dale Mueller is not alone when it comes to wanting to play more local teams from Northern Kentucky.
The Bluebirds will have to make trips to Lexington Bryan Station, Campbell County and Warren Central next year for non-district action after they came to Fort Thomas this year. Warren Central will be the longest trip of the three at about 3.5 hours. University Christian (Fla.) will come back to Fort Thomas after opening the season there this year. Highlands edged Warren Central, 71-69 to conclude the regular season on Friday.
“I really appreciate all those teams playing us,” Mueller said. “I just have so much respect for the guys there from Warren Central because they were getting blown out early. (But) they just kept coming and kept coming. I’m going to send (Warren Central Head Coach Mike Rogers) a letter. It says so much for the character of their guys.”
Highlands ventured about two hours to John Hardin before going about 5.5 to Paducah Tilghman. The Bluebirds won those games by a combined 24 points. The two come to Fort Thomas next year.
Highlands senior offensive tackle Kyle Thurston admitted the Bluebirds struggled on the road. The Bluebirds beat John Hardin, 33-26 and a late touchdown run by Jaylen Hayes sealed a 42-25 Highlands win at Tilghman.
“I honestly enjoy traveling,” Thurston said. “But when it’s like a six-hour drive to Paducah, it’s not very fun. As soon as we get off the bus, we’re all tired. We’re not really ready to play a game. We try to get mentally focused. We need to play the way we do at home offensively and defensively on the road. At Paducah, it was a struggle on the offensive line and a couple big plays on defense.”
Highlands at least found two non-district games against teams from the same or adjacent county. The Bluebirds did renew their in-county rivalry with Campbell County and continued the series against Cincinnati Elder from just over the river.
“Since we travel a lot, we’re not really used to it,” said Jordan Johnson, Highlands sophomore defensive back. “It’s hard because of the long bus rides. You have cramps on the bus rides. We get out an hour and a half before the game starts and stretch defense only. Since we started doing that, we got motivated better.”
While things are tough for Highlands, they are worse for at least three other teams in Kentucky in the Warren Central Dragons, Bowling Green Purples and Louisville Trinity Shamrocks. The Shamrocks have had to play teams from Indianapolis, Nashville and Cincinnati to complete just a nine-game schedule for the last three years. They saw a team from Illinois back out from a game this year in the offseason and finished 4-5 against the tough schedule with a 42-14 loss to defending Ohio Division I champion Cincinnati Moeller on Friday. Trinity has a home-and-home series scheduled against nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas (Nevada) starting next year.
Bowling Green and Warren Central can’t get any non-district opponent within two Kentucky counties to play them. Their closest non-district opponent in the regular season was about 70 miles away in Owensboro. The Purples even had a game against Bryan Station cancelled because of lightning.
New opponents in 2013:
The Bluebirds also faced University Christian (Florida) for the first time this year.
Highlands has played 134 different opponents in 99 years of football. The Bluebirds are 851-226-26 since starting their program in 1915.
That win total ranks first in Kentucky and second in the nation behind the Valdosta Wildcats of south Georgia. Valdosta moved to 882-212-34 with a 41-8 win over Brunswick on Friday. The Wildcats are 6-3 on the year with all three defeats coming in the rugged Region 1-AAAAAA of southern Georgia.
Not undefeated, but battle-tested:
Ten teams in Kentucky finished the regular season undefeated, but none faced an opponent the caliber of Cincinnati Elder. The Panthers handed the Bluebirds their lone loss of the year last week, 30-27.
The Bluebirds own the state record for most undefeated seasons with 13. Next on the list is the Owensboro Red Devils with nine. The last time Owensboro finished undefeated was 1974.
In Class 2A, defending runner-up Caldwell County finished 10-0 with a 48-41 against defending 1A champion Mayfield in a battle of undefeated teams. The Tigers were the lone unbeaten in 2A.
There was one other battle of unbeaten teams on Friday. Johnson Central knocked off Belfry, 54-28 to finish as one of two teams in Class 4A in the unbeaten category. Boyle County put the finishing touches on its undefeated campaign with a 46-14 win over Whitley County.
In Class 3A, Mason County, Wayne County and Bourbon County finished 10-0. Mason County and Bourbon County could meet in the Class 3A region title game in a few weeks.
The top two ranked teams in Class 5A also finished undefeated. They are Pulaski County at 10-0 and Bowling Green at 9-0. The Purples held off Tennessee power Murfreesboro Blackman, 26-25 in Bowling Green on Friday. The Purples own the state’s longest winning streak with 39 in a row.
The state record for most consecutive wins is 50 in a row. Trinity accomplished that between 1988 and 1991.
Then in Class 6A, the Scott County Cardinals and Simon Kenton Pioneers finished undefeated. The two would not meet until the state championship game.
Junior Varsity/Freshmen Team updates:
The junior varsity Bluebirds hope to complete an undefeated season with a win over Scott County at 11 a.m. today. They are 6-0.
The Highlands freshmen were to play Boone County on Thursday. The game was called because of weather. The Bluebirds are 5-4 on the season.