By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Another Blue and White victory gave those who say it is not a rivalry anymore another piece of evidence.
But the Highlands Bluebirds football team left their home field for the final time in 2013 knowing it was one of the toughest victories this season. In a similar battle to last year’s Class 4A, Region 4 title game, the Bluebirds knocked off the Covington Catholic Colonels (10-3) by a similar 28-13 score. Highlands improved to 12-1 overall and 99-4 since the start of 2007.
Only two teams have come closer to beating the Bluebirds during their 33-game playoff winning streak. Those two victories came in 2008 in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs in a 28-22 home win over the Lexington Bryan Station Defenders when Tony Guidugli threw a late touchdown pass to Austin Collinsworth and in the 2010 Class 5A Regional title game when Patrick Towles and company edged J.J. Jude and the Johnson Central Golden Eagles, 21-14 in Paintsville.
Highlands has outscored the opposition by 1130 points during the winning streak. That’s an average of just more than 34 points per game.
But unlike the first two playoff games, the Highlands starters played the entire game. The Bluebirds did not hit the running clock for just the first time in the playoffs.
Highlands played a lot more conservative than normal consistently feeding the ball to running backs Zach Harris and Nicholas Kendall on the windy day at David Cecil Memorial Field. Harris finished with 33 carries for 194 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bluebirds still managed offensive balance rushing for 205 yards and passing for 191. They did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season.
Highlands quarterback Drew Houliston completed 17-of-26 passes for 191 yards. But he also ran for two more scores.
“Our coaches did a heck of a job preparing us for everything they were going to do,” said Tyler Schweitzer, Highlands senior offensive lineman. “They stunted a lot. But we knew exactly how to block it.”
Houliston’s first touchdown came on the first Highlands possession. On 4th-and-goal from the CovCath 4, Houliston rolled to the right and made it in to give Highlands a 7-0 lead.
“That was big,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “That was the first time all year we called runs for Drew. He’s scrambled for first downs. Drew did a good job to get it in (the end zone).”
The Bluebirds threw a lot of short passes over the middle and to the sidelines because Covington Catholic played back defensively to make sure Highlands did have success over throwing the ball deep. Ryan Greene and Brandon Hergott had four catches each for 56 and 45 yards respectively with Beau Hoge recording three for 47 yards.
“They were saying they weren’t going to get beat deep,” Greene said. “That really opened up the running game. Drew did a really good job checking down on the shorter routes. We don’t want to end the season with any regrets so we’re going to go all-out the rest of the season.”
The Colonels managed just 217 yards of total offense. They rotated sophomore Ben Dressman and junior Adam Wagner in at quarterback. Wagner and running back Luke Bir did not play in the Sept. 28 meeting that Highlands won 42-6.
Dressman gave Highlands some problems on CovCath’s first drive. He responded to Houliston’s first score with a 51-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper following a fake to Bir on a read-option with 7:11 left in the quarter. But the Colonels missed the extra-point attempt and trailed 7-6 entering the second quarter.
“(CovCath) executed in the beginning,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator. “We just settled down and got into a feel for the game. We were caught up in the moment (early). We played pretty well defensively.”
But Highlands contained the read-option after that. Dressman finished with 12 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns. His second one came with 3:57 left in the fourth.
CovCath rushed for 172 yards and passed for 45. Wagner completed 7-of-10 passes for all the Colonel passing yards.
After missing on a few opportunities in CovCath territory, Highlands put together two drives to finish the first half and extend the lead. Houliston rolled to his left and scored from nine yards out with 4:55 left and Harris scored from two yards out in the full-house backfield with 51 seconds to go.
“They punted out of the end zone and we took it 80 yards in about a minute (on the first Harris score),” Mueller said. “That was a huge drive for us. Once we got up 21-6 on them, we really felt confident in our defense and we were really looking to take some clock so we got more conservative. We felt that was the way to do it.”
The Bluebirds managed to add some distance with another long drive in the second half. Harris finished it with 11:32 left in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard run.
The game had plenty of hard hits. But the officials did a good job separating players as only one personal foul on either team occurred. It came against Highlands in the second quarter.
“Our teammates have our backs,” said Thomas Wrobleski, Highlands senior linebacker. “If they see us getting into it, they’re going to come up and break us apart. We all care about each other. We don’t want to get kicked out of the game.”
Highlands will have another round of playoff rewind in the state semifinals this Friday. The only difference is the Bluebirds have to travel to Lexington Catholic (10-3). The Knights knocked off the Mercer County Titans, 49-14. The Bluebirds have beaten LexCath in the previous two 4A semifinal games en route to state championships.