By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Over in Park Hills, the faithful fans constantly wonder if this is the year the streak ends.
But the Highlands Bluebirds football team hopes to prevent that huge midfield celebration that has come in past years when the Covington Catholic Colonels won. That has not happened since 2006 as the Bluebirds have won 11 straight in the series on their way to six consecutive state championships. Highlands leads the all-time series, 45-17.
“I know I’ve been saying this a lot,” said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. “But it’s going to come down to us trusting what we do and playing fast. It’s not so much what they’re going to do. That’s what every game has been about. If they make plays, we have to stop them on the next play.”
The teams enter the game in a somewhat similar situation to last year. The Bluebirds are undefeated at 4-0 and the Colonels are 3-1 with their lone loss coming at two-time Ohio Defending Division I state champion Cincinnati Moeller, 39-0 on Sept. 5. The Bluebirds enter the game off a 49-17 win over Paducah Tilghman on Saturday.
Highlands entered last year’s regular season contest at 5-0 having played in the zero week. The Bluebirds dominated the contest over the injury-riddled Colonels, 42-6 in Park Hills before winning the playoff rematch, 28-13 in Fort Thomas in the regional finals.
Highlands has beaten CovCath twice the last three years. Wirth said the Colonels have had some injuries, but they’ve been more with the linemen as opposed to the skill position players like last year.
Dave Wirth is in his sixth season as head coach of the Colonels. They are 0-9 against the Bluebirds since he took that title. They beat Henderson County, 49-28 in their last game on Sept. 13 in Park Hills.
“Moeller is as good as or probably much better than anyone we will play and they’re huge across the board with tons of Division I players so it only makes you better,” Wirth said. “They expose every weakness their opponents have. Henderson (County) is good too, but not quite Moeller. Each team presents different challenges. We like to schedule tough to make us get better. Scheduling teams that are weak doesn’t to us much good.”
The Colonels had their bye week before the game Friday. Wirth said CovCath focused on fundamentals during that week.
The game tends to get a lot of mention on the Internet. Highlands fans, students and players often post #BeatColonels on Twitter. The likes of former players like Mike Mitchell, Donovan McCoy and Tyler Schweitzer have tweeted it this week. The CovCath administration suspended Colonel students from attending the regular season game in Fort Thomas two years ago for going too far on Twitter.
“I didn’t know anything about that from two years ago,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. “I haven’t even thought about that. We hope their smart enough to realize it’s a game. You play the game on the field on the field on Friday Night. It has nothing to do with what you say on social media.”
That’s where the senior leadership comes into play. The Highlands seniors have been through CovCath six times since entering high school.
“We just have to make sure it’s still a football game no matter who we’re playing,” said Alex Veneman, Highlands senior wide receiver. “We need to focus on what we need to do to win the game.”
Veneman and Highlands senior quarterback Beau Hoge have been huge pieces to the Highlands offense that’s averaged 42 points and 475.5 yards per contest. Hoge has completed 65-of-103 passes for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns to go with 278 yards rushing on 31 carries and eight touchdowns.
“It’s very hard to prepare for Hoge. He is very good,” Wirth said. “They have a nice offense this year. Coach Weinrich has made some nice tweaks to the offense and they’re much better this year.”
Veneman has been his top target terrorizing defenses with 25 catches for 444 yards and seven touchdowns. But 11 different Bluebirds have catches. Junior Mitch Cain has 12 for 162 yards and a touchdown.
The Highlands running game has given the Bluebirds experience behind an improving offensive line led by Lou Bunning, Evan Richardson and Carson Haas. Senior Griffin Urlage leads the Bluebirds with 298 yards on 51 carries and two scores. Senior Josh Watson has 141 yards on 41 carries and two scores.
Teams have rushed for 590 yards and passed for 689 against the Colonel 3-3-5 defense playing the middle linebacker primarily in the middle. Senior defensive back Ben Zumdick leads the Colonels with 29 tackles. Senior defensive lineman Chandler Brooks and junior linebacker Cason Wall have one fumble recovery each. Zumdick and senior defensive back Alex Wagner have one interception each.
Highlands has seen the 3-3-5 stack defense twice this year. Campbell County and Cincinnati St. Xavier run it.
“It depends on what you’re trying to do,” Weinrich said. “CovCath is going to be sound no matter what tweaks they do. They’re going to make you beat then. They’re not going to give up anything cheap. They’re going to keep the game in front of them and not give up the big plays.”
The Highlands 3-4 defense will face a Colonel Spread offense. Highlands, CovCath doesn’t have anyone going both directions.
The Bluebirds have allowed just an average of 20.2 points per game and 307 yards of offense per game. They have 20 tackles for a loss for a total of 50 yards and nine sacks. Highlands junior defensive lineman Tyler Robinson and senior linebacker Brady Murray lead the way with 3.5 tackles for a loss with senior linebacker Jacob Noe and senior defensive lineman Daniel Kremer recording two sacks each. Patrick Schoepf and Ben Ziegler have one fumble recovery each and senior defensive back Andrew Abner has the team’s lone interception that sealed the win over Lexington Bryan Station a few weeks ago.
“Whatever the coaches decide to change, we have to follow through with that. We can’t go back to old habits,” said Rocco Pangallo, Highland senior linebacker. “They have some tricks up their sleeves. We have some tricks up our sleeves. It’s a matter of trying to see when it’s needed. When it comes down to it, if it’s 4th-and-10, they’re going to try a trick play. If we don’t get antsy or nervous and stay at the level Coach Weinrich talks about, we’ll be fine.”
The Colonels have rushed for 478 yards and passed for 909 yards this year. Quarterback Adam Wagner has completed 66-of-103 passes for 860 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions and rushed for 222 yards on 43 carries and two touchdowns.
Junior running back Ben Darlington is CovCath’s next leading rusher. He has 133 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. Senior Logan McDowell has 20 catches for 259 yards to lead CovCath and seven touchdowns with senior Lee McClure recording 12 catches for 291 yards and four touchdowns.
Game time is 7 p.m. in Fort Thomas.