By John Lachmann
PARK HILLS, Ky. – Highlands had allowed 44, 26 and 25 points in its previous three games.
But on Saturday, the Bluebirds answered any questions about the virility of their defense as they surrendered just one late touchdown with the running clock in a 42-6 win over Covington Catholic at Wooten Field.
“It’s awesome to come out vs. CovCath, our rival, and just shut them out (against our first string), that’s going to give us a lot of juice for the next two weeks,” Highlands senior defensive lineman Thomas Wrobleski said. “Now that we understand that we can shut anybody out, I think that’s going to give us a lot of momentum.”
It took the Colonels until their third and final drive of the first quarter to break into the black in offensive yards. Highlands held CovCath to 84 yards in the first half and 237 yards overall, with 80 coming on the Colonels’ fourth-quarter scoring drive.
Senior defensive end Braden Hicks and junior defensive back Griffin Urlage both intercepted passes, and senior linebacker Joey Cochran and junior linebacker Patrick Schoepf recorded a pair of tackles for loss each for the Bluebirds.
“Defensively we really work each week to get better, because we’re playing nine scrimmages and CovCath in the regular season,” Highlands coach Dale Mueller said. “We’ve been real pleased with the way we’ve played defensively.”
And the Highlands offense remained in high gear. The Bluebirds went 68 yards on eight plays on the opening drive, scoring on a 13-yard pass from senior Drew Houliston to senior Evan Allen with 9:37 left in the first quarter.
CovCath’s first drive went just four plays and was squelched by a 22-yard loss when a shotgun snap went over everyone’s head.
Highlands took over at its 35 after a punt, and six plays later Houliston hooked up with junior Jenson Feggins on a bomb for a 54-yard touchdown pass.
Two possessions later, the Bluebirds went 72 yards on eight plays, capped off by a 16-yard run up the middle by senior Zach Harris to make it 21-0 early in the second quarter.
Highlands took advantage of a short field after an interception by Hicks, and Harris again did the heavy lifting with three carries for 28 yards including a 13-yard score.
It was Harris who made it a five-score game after a CovCath three-and-out. Houliston went 4-for-4 for 71 yards on that drive, and Harris pounded in an 19-yard TD.
By picking up just six first downs in the first half, the Colonels made life difficult for its defense, which was on the field for 39 plays in the opening two quarters.
“It’s good because as we’re stopping (CovCath) we’re just taking away from them,” said Wrobleski, who finished with six solo tackles and batted down a pass. “They’re saying, 'we can’t do anything, every time we go out there, they’re just killing us.'”
Houliston finished 19-for-23 for 339 yards and three touchdowns, with one of his incompletions coming on a dropped pass. He is now 109-for-154 (70.8 percent) for 1,886 yards, 24 TDs and one pick in six games.
Houliston had not drawn much college interest entering this season, but that may be changing.
“If I was a college coach, I’d play him right now,” Mueller said. “He plays the game like an NFL quarterback. You can sack him five times in a row and he still stands right there in the pocket and delivers the ball.”
Harris led all rushers with 109 ground yards and three TDs on 17 carries.
Highlands senior Ryan Greene finished with a team-high six catches for 74 yards, and junior Beau Hogecaught two passes for 83 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown.
CovCath sophomore quarterback Ben Dressman went 11 of 21 for 163 yards and one score, with junior Sam Dressman catching six of those passes for 115 yards and one TD.
But the Colonels struggled against the Highlands run defense, gaining just 74 ground yards on 26 carries.
This was the first game of the Class 4A, District 7 schedule. With all four teams in the district guaranteed postseason berths, district games are merely for seeding.
That means with both CovCath and Highlands favored to beat the other two teams in their district – Holmes and Harrison County – this game likely gave the Bluebirds home field for the first two rounds of the playoffs and the Colonels will likely host the first round if they beat their remaining district foes.
“Every day of my life I think about playing CovCath,” Mueller said. “It’s the whole season to us. All year long we get up for playing CovCath. Historically the CovCath-Highlands winner is winning the state championship. This game wasn’t the one that was important, it’s when we play in the playoffs.”
at COVCATH 0-0-0-6—6
H-Allen 13 pass from Houliston (Dougherty kick)
H-Feggins 54 pass from Houliston (Dougherty kick)
H-Harris 16 run (Dougherty kick)
H-Harris 13 run (Dougherty kick)
H-Harris 19 run (Dougherty kick)
H-Hoge 59 pass from Houliston (Dougherty kick)
CC-S. Dressman 31 pass from B. Dressman (kick failed)
RECORDS: Highlands 6-0, CovCath 3-2.