By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Nothing came unexpected in this one.
The Highlands Bluebirds football earned another top seed in the playoffs with its 17th district championship in 18 years and that again came with the usual first-round thumping of a visiting fourth-seeded opponent. The Class 4A, District 7 champion Bluebirds destroyed the Boyd County Lions of District 8 for the third straight year, 70-6 on Friday to open the playoffs.
Highlands moved to 10-1 on the season and won its state-record 31st consecutive playoff game to move to 97-4 since the start of 2007. The Bluebirds have outscored their 31 playoff opponents by 1,065 points during that run for an average of just more than 34 points a game.
The Bluebirds have beaten the Lions (1-10) by a grand total of 189-27 in the only three meetings in school history. The average margin of victory in those three games for Highlands is 63 points.
“We were favored in the game I’d say, but you still have to win the game,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “To (win 97-of-101 games), you have to not get upset. You have to be ready to play each (playoff) game. On Monday, one of the two teams turns in their equipment so it is so important to be ready to play that game.”
Highlands outgained Boyd County, 472-109 in total offense pretty much doing whatever it wanted the entire game. The Bluebird offensive line once again protected the skill players well not allowing a sack.
“(The success) is from the amount of hard work we put in (year-round),” said Carson Haas, Highlands sophomore offensive lineman. “It’s just crazy what we go through to be able to do something like that. We’re really satisfied with ourselves. We’re looking forward to the (rest of the playoffs). We know it will be a challenge.”
Highlands senior quarterback Drew Houliston completed 11-of-18 passes for 166 yards and four touchdowns and Beau Hoge completed 6-of-8 for 127 yards and two scores. Ryan Greene and Brandon Hergott had two touchdown receptions each.
Alex Veneman led Highlands with 85 yards receiving on five catches and Luke Brockett had four catches for 46 yards. Greene followed with three catches for 55 yards and Hergott’s two touchdown receptions totaled seven yards.
“We were trying to get the pocket all secured so (Houliston) didn’t get hit,” said Austin Beal, Highlands sophomore wide receiver. “When he threw it downfield, we were trying to get our wide receivers to be open further (upfield) so he didn’t have to throw that far.”
Highlands rested starting running back Zach Harris. But sophomore Nicholas Kendall shined rushing for 156 yards on five carries and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Highlands rested defensive backs Griffin Urlage and Andrew Abner in addition to linebacker Thomas Wrobelski. But the Bluebirds played well defensively after hearing about how vulnerable they were there all week.
“We had a game plan specific for (Boyd County),” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator. “We executed it really well. We had to put some guys in some new spots. We have to figure out who we have for next week and be ready to go.”
Highlands put constant pressure on Boyd County quarterback Billy McCoy all game. He completed just 5-of-14 passes for six yards.
The Tigers lined up in the Stack-I formation and tried to run up the middle and outside. But the Bluebirds held them to just six yards rushing.
“I think we adapted to (the Stack-I) pretty well,” said Jack Jager, Highlands sophomore defensive end. “We hope to come out next week and (play well) again. If you don’t have food foot work, you’re going to fall down and not make the tackle.”
The Tigers got most of their yardage on the last drive of the game. Quarterback Cade Isaacs completed all four passes for 97 yards including a 66-yarder to Christian Braly to avert the shutout in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers had four turnovers to none for the Bluebirds. John Abner and Joey Kruse had fumble recoveries with Alex Shadle and Kyle Martin recording interceptions for the Bluebirds. Shadle returned his interception 24 yards for a touchdown and Kruse stripped the ball for a 22-yard fumble return for the score. That gave Highlands a 56-0 halftime lead.
Highlands led 35-0 after Kendall’s touchdown runs of 94 and 59 yards. Houliston completed a 50-yard score to Jensen Feggins, a 1-yarder to Greene and a 6-yarder to Hergott in that quarter.
The Bluebirds enforced the running clock with 11:35 left in the second quarter. Houliston completed a 1-yard pass to Hergott.
Highlands scored its other two touchdowns in the third quarter. Hoge completed a 4-yarder to Brockett and a 37-yarder to Greene.
The Bluebirds take on 8-3 Ashland Blazer on Friday in Fort Thomas. Highlands beat the Tomcats, 52-13 in the second round of last year’s playoffs.