|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senior wide receiver Alex Veneman (6) looks to make a move on Lexington Catholic's Davis Rowady (12) in Friday's state semifinal win.|
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
I happened to be talking to Ashley Twehues-Thomas for an upcoming project Tuesday and mentioned the Highlands Bluebirds were playing the Owensboro Red Devils for the Class 4A state championship.
The 2004 Highlands graduate and former Butler University soccer player wondered something familiar when it comes to the Bluebirds and state championship games in recent years. Thomas wondered if it will be another Highlands blowout.
That’s understandable based on their recent run of six straight state championships. The Bluebirds beat their opponents by an average of just more than 33 points.
There did not appear to be anyone in Class 4A that had the balance to beat the Bluebirds like last year’s Collins Titans team did. Collins ended the Bluebird run with a 37-34 victory on a touchdown with seven seconds left.
You never know how things will truly pan out until the game starts. The Highlands mystique often intimidates teams and could be the case Saturday. Owensboro has not faced Highlands since the 2000 Class 3A championship game. The Bluebirds beat the Red Devils for the 1999 3A title as well.
But the Bluebirds will not go down there thinking Owensboro will lay down for them. The Red Devils may have needed a fluke play to make it to the title game. They may play their best ball considering they have nothing to lose in the underdog role and will be excited to be there like Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich said.
Owensboro runs the Double-Slot Wing-T triple option offense and has run it well on teams all season. That includes the losses to Bowling Green and Henderson County. The Red Devils have 3,703 yards rushing on the season.
Anthony James has 1,180 yards rushing on 171 carries and 16 touchdowns. James runs behind an Owensboro offensive line with some size. VaSaad Greer is 6-foot-3-inches, 340 pounds at the right guard.
Big and physical teams have given Highlands some problems this year. That means Owensboro could go on some long and sustained drives if Highlands does not line up right defensively. That happened to the Bluebirds in their losses to Cincinnati Elder and Miami (Fla.) Christopher Columbus.
The Bluebirds like to use their speed to get around bigger offensive lineman. D.J. Mills, Daniel Kremer and Tyler Robinson have done it well on the defensive line and linebackers like Rocco Pangallo and Brady Murray have done well coming quickly to the ball.
The Highlands secondary could also play a vital role in stopping both the Owensboro running and passing attack. Highlands junior Austin Beal made a big play in the second quarter. He tackled Lexington Catholic running back Jaylen Jones on a pass play and the ball squirted out into the hands of Highlands linebacker Jacob Noe for a crucial turnover.
The Red Devils pass the ball some. But Nick Locher has not thrown for near the yards that LexCath quarterback Reese Ryan threw for this year.
On the other side, no team has been able to slow down Beau Hoge and the Highlands offense. Hoge has been great at reading defenses all year. The first drive against Lexington Catholic was a prime example. Hoge saw an opening up the middle so he fakes to running back Griffin Urlage and scored on a read option play.
The Bluebirds have done it well with the revamped offensive line led by seniors Manny Venegas, Lou Bunning, Matt Gall and juniors Evan Richardson, Carson Haas and Bo Hebel. They’ve been opening up holes well lately.
The good news compared to last year is Highlands is not as banged up defensively.
But all in all, the it factor favors the Bluebirds. They played like a team on a mission against Lexington Catholic and will look to carry it into Saturday. They were ready since the loss in the title game last year like Pangallo said.
Game time is 3:30 p.m. Central Standard Time at Western Kentucky University.