Highlands plays unfamiliar role of underdog vs. CovCath as district play heats up

Playoff picture will become clearer this week

Three big district matchups highlight the schedule this week in Northern Kentucky high school football.

Class 5A No. 1 CovCath host Highlands, Class 1A No. 2 Beechwood hosts No. 5 Ludlow and Class 6A No. 4 Simon Kenton hosts No. 10 Campbell County. The winners in all three games will either clinch the district or take a control of the district standings.

Here's a look at the biggest storylines to watch in Northern Kentucky this weekend :

CovCath seeks second-straight win over rival Highlands

Highlands (3-4) at Covington Catholic (7-0), 7 p.m. Friday

The Colonels blew out another highly ranked high school football team last week, routing Indianapolis Bishop Chatard 30-7 at Dennis Griffin Stadium. Chatard was ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press Indiana Class 3A state poll last week and is No. 8 this week, but CovCath just rolled right over the Chatard defense behind 316 yards and three touchdowns by senior quarterback AJ Mayer on 14-of-23 passing.

Now CovCath turns its attention on crosstown rival Highlands and a possible second-straight win over the Bluebirds after 13 straight losses to the Bluebirds. It will be the Class 5A district opener for the Colonels.

“We have to continue to play our game and execute the scheme,” CovCath coach Eddie Eviston said. “Obviously, it is a rivalry game and there will be some outside noise surrounding this game, but we need to treat it just like we have every game prior.”

Every game prior has been a romp. Chatard was the third straight foe the Colonels limited to single-digit scoring and the No. 1 team in the latest Associated Press Kentucky Class 5A state poll has beaten teams by an average of 40-8. They have not allowed more than 17 points in a game in 2017, have only allowed double-digit points twice and have limited opposing teams to an average of 222 yards per game while amassing an average of 418 in a balance attack.

Quite simply, the Colonels avoid mistakes on both sides of the ball. They’ll try to make that the story again this week.

“We cannot allow any mistakes to be compounded into more, we cannot turn the ball over offensively, and we cannot give up the big play defensively,” Eviston said.

Mayer, a Miami University recruit, has completed 89 of 142 passes for 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Senior receiver Malachi Pike has made 19 catches for 289 yards and five touchdowns while junior receiver Jack Coldiron has made 17 catches for 390 yards and five touchdowns. Junior running back Casey McGinness has added 14 catches to go with 828 yards on 117 carries and eight rushing touchdowns. Mayer has scored six touchdowns on the ground.

Can Highlands keep it close?

It seems like an eternity since Highlands won its 13th straight over CovCath, 44-22, in a playoff game Nov. 20, 2015. The Colonels emphatically ended that streak last season with a 63-26 win at Highlands last Oct. 14 and CovCath is the heavy favorite again this season.

But the Birds are feeling good after ending a four-game losing streak last week with a 47-0 rout of Dixie Heights at home. Dixie, which beat Highlands in 2016 for the first time since 2002, had entered on a three-game winning streak.

The CovCath staff sees an improved football team coming in.

“A team that gets better and better each week this season,” Eviston said. “They have some explosive players on the offensive side of the ball and they have a defense that will capitalize on any mistakes you make.”

Highlands quarterback Carl Schoellman. (Joseph Fuqua II/WCPO Contributor)

Senior quarterback Carl Schoellman has completed 120 of 190 passes for 1,471 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions this season for Highlands. His top targets have been seniors Nick Veneman and Jared Wogan. Veneman has made 34 catches for 530 yards and eight touchdowns and Wogan has added 26 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns.

Ludlow has a chance for a signature win

Ludlow (7-0) at Beechwood (5-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday

Ludlow remained unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the Class 1A state poll after a 60-8 rout of district foe Dayton last week and even picked up a first-place vote. Now the Panthers travel to No. 2 Beechwood -- the defending Class 1A state champs and the longtime top dog in the local Class 1A district.

If the Panthers pull off the upset of the season, it will be on the legs on senior quarterback Justin Blackburn, who has 1,488 yards on 131 carries for a per-carry average better than 11 yards thus far in 2017 with 25 touchdowns. He has completed 43 of 95 passes for 857 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Blackburn and company have amassed 2,485 yards on the ground this season while outscoring foes 337-163. Junior running back Sean Stratton has added 768 yards on 118 carries and six touchdowns while sophomore Ian Vallandingham has made 16 catches for 372 yards and six touchdowns. Senior tight end Trey Donahue has added 11 catches for 217 yards and five touchdowns for Ludlow.

Beechwood has no interest in history this week

Ludlow (7-0) at Beechwood (5-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday

Beechwood has not lost to a current district opponent (Ludlow, Bellevue and Dayton) since Bellevue won 27-21at Beechwood on Oct. 7, 2005, and the perennial small-school power doesn't want that streak die this week.

The defending Class 1A state champion Tigers had lost two of their last three at the hands of Class 5A No. 1 Covington Catholic and Class 6A No. 4 Simon Kenton before opening district play with a 49-0 rout of Bellevue on the road last week. Now the Tigers turn their attention to Blackburn and the Panthers. Beechwood allows only 124 yards per game on the ground, so Ludlow’s high-powered ground attack will be a test.

Look for senior quarterback Brayden Burch to have another big game for Beechwood. Burch has completed 88 of 161 passes for 1,168 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior James Davis leads Beechwood with 506 yards on 101 carries and eight touchdowns and sophomore Joshua Derry has added 192 yards on 28 carries and three touchdowns. Junior Logan Castleman has 185 yards on 37 carries and four touchdowns to go with 24 catches for 344 yards and four touchdown catches.

Simon Kenton can sew up district crown

Campbell County (5-2) at Simon Kenton (8-0), 7 p.m. Friday

Simon Kenton got well last week after back-to-back nail-biters against smaller schools with a 64-0 blowout at Class 6A district rival Boone County. The Pioneers remained No. 4 in the latest Kentucky Class 6A state poll and are the highest-ranked local squad in the big-school rankings. They can clinch the three-team district crown this week with a win over Campbell County before hosting Ryle next week to close the season.

Simon Kenton receiver Fisher Hayden catches a touchdown against Highlands. (Joseph Fuqua II/WCPO Contributor)

With close calls in recent weeks against Highlands and Beechwood, don’t expect the Pioneers to look past Campbell County.

Senior quarterback Matt Shearer has completed 98 of 159 passes for 1,527 yards and 22 touchdowns with only three interceptions while adding 439 yards on 99 carries and nine more touchdowns on the ground. Sophomore running back Austin Hammack has added 645 yards on 81 carries with seven touchdowns. Senior receiver Sam Murray has 27 catches for 346 yards and five touchdowns and senior receiver Fisher Hayden has added 26 catches for 513 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The key for Simon Kenton will be the rushing defense. The Pioneers have allowed only 145 yards per game on the ground, but the Camels roll up 256 yards per game on the ground behind star running back Alex Dowds.

Campbell County has an upset in mind

The Camels have won two straight in dominant fashion and believe the Class 6A District 6-6 can be theirs to win.

Dowds, a senior running back, is the story offensively for Campbell County. He has carried 136 times for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Camels this season. Those numbers include an eye-popping 447 yards on 20 carries with four touchdowns last week in a 54-28 win at Conner. Dowds has added 15 catches for 197 yards.

Campbell County running back Alex Dowds. (Joseph Fuqua II/WCPO Contributor)

Senior quarterback Austin Hoeh has completed 99 of 167 passes for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns with three interceptions while adding 177 yards on 58 carries with six touchdowns.

The Camels should give Simon Kenton trouble on defense as well. Campbell County has allowed only 279 yards per game while being especially stingy against the passing game, allowing only 122 per game through the air.

NewCath hosts district rival Lloyd

Lloyd (5-2) at Newport Central Catholic (4-3), 7 p.m.

Last week’s 49-0 romp over Holy Cross was a welcome change of pace for the Thoroughbreds after a gauntlet of a schedule that included games against Class 6A foes and state No. 1s. Now NewCath seeks to go 2-0 in its district.

Junior Kyle Kelly leads the Breds offense with 697 yards on 115 carries with six touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Paul Kremer has completed 37 of 74 passes for 392 yards and seven touchdowns.

Lloyd is also 1-0 in the district after a 36-8 rout last week at Newport. Senior quarterback Jordan Fann and junior running back Travon Mason lead the Juggernauts offense. Fann has 749 yards on 81 carries with 11 touchdowns and has completed 34 of 84 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns. Mason has added 730 yards on 84 carries with four touchdowns.

Walton-Verona tightening grip on District 2-5

Carroll County (3-4) at Walton-Verona (5-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday

Walton-Verona has put together an impressive array of shutouts and blowouts this season with the Bearcats only losses at the hands of Class 2A No. 4 Lexington Christian and Class 1A No. 4 Kentucky Country Day.

The Bearcats’ last four wins have been shutouts, including the last two weeks against district foes -- a 61-0 win Sept. 22 over Owen County and a 56-0 win last week at Trimble County. Shut out or not, Walton-Verona is a heavy favorite again this week.

Junior quarterback Garrett Jones has completed 28 of 63 passes for 408 yards and six touchdowns and the Bearcats feature five players with at least 100 yards rushing. Junior fullback Micah Alford has carried 61 times for 407 yards and nine touchdowns and senior running back Garet Talbott has added 448 yards on 42 carries and six touchdowns.

Senior quarterback Dylan Groves has completed 57 of 112 passes for 810 yards and 11 touchdowns for Carroll County while junior running back Orlando Vasquez has added 757 yards on 90 carries and seven touchdowns.

Ryle can clinch district crown

Conner (4-3) at Ryle (5-2), 7 p.m. Saturday

Ryle rolled over winless Cooper last week, 34-14, on the road to open district play with and win and the raiders can lock up the three-team district with a win this week.

The Raiders have won five of six since a season-opening loss at Class 5A No. 1 CovCath with the only other loss coming Sept. 29 to Indiana Class 5A No. 5 Indianapolis Cathedral.

Senior running back Jake Chisholm is likely to have another stellar performance against the run-weary Cougars defense. Chisholm has amassed 1,240 yards on 149 carries and 18 touchdowns while adding 15 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Easton Pilyer has completed 50 of 98 passes for 620 yards and seven touchdowns while adding 298 yards on 48 carries and a touchdown.

Conner defense faces another star running back

Alex Dowds’ 447 yards and four touchdowns for Campbell County last week against Conner are likely to be on the minds of Cougars defenders as Chisholm and the Raiders line up across the field this week. Conner has allowed 240 yards per game on the ground.

Conner quarterback Cooper Gullion. (Joseph Fuqua II/WCPO Contributor)

Conner senior quarterback Cooper Gullion has completed 77 of 122 passes for 983 yards and 11 touchdowns with only two interceptions this season.

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