FORT THOMAS, Ky. – For the first time in a long time, the Highlands Bluebirds won a football game without their passing attack putting points on the scoreboard.
Highlands rushed for four touchdowns in 28-13 win over Covington Catholic on Friday to win the Class 4A regional title and advance to the semifinals of the state playoffs.
The Bluebirds (12-1) will play at Lexington Catholic (10-3) next week with the winner moving on to the Class 4A state championship game. Highlands has won a state title for a Kentucky-record six consecutive seasons.
Friday’s game was the first time this season that the Bluebirds did not have a passing touchdown in the final scoring summary. The team’s offensive leader was senior running back Zach Harris, who rushed for 190 yards on 34 carries and scored two touchdowns.
“We have a tendency to pass a little bit more than most teams,” Harris said. “But what happened (Friday) was we couldn’t get the passing game going so we tried to stick with what was working, and it ended up being the run game that was working.”
Highlands senior quarterback Drew Houliston did complete 17 of 26 passes for 192 yards. But he got off to a rocky start and the Bluebirds had to punt the ball away on four consecutive possessions in the first half.
The Bluebirds did score on their final two possessions of the half to take a 21-6 lead. On both of those drives, they relied on short passes by Houliston and strong runs by Harris to move the ball.
“As we showed (Friday), we can do anything on offense,” Harris said. “That’s just how high-powered our offense is. We can run and pass, it doesn’t matter.”
Highlands went 80 yards on six plays on its last scoring drive of the first half. On the final play, Harris took the snap from center and bulled his way into the end zone from 3 yards out.
“That last drive before the half was a real back-breaker for us,” said CovCath coach Dave Wirth. “A one-score game (at halftime), that’s no big deal, but then they get that one right before the half.”
In the second half, Harris carried the ball 21 times for 102 yards. He scored his second TD on another direct snap early in the fourth quarter to put Highlands ahead 28-6.
“We just kept running the ball and pounding on them,” Harris said. “All the credit goes to our linemen. Whatever my stats were, it all belongs to them. I’m not the one who creates holes. They’ve got to do that because if there’s no holes I can’t run the ball.”
CovCath’s offensive linemen weren’t very successful at opening holes and the Colonels ended up with just 219 total yards (176 rushing, 43 passing).
Both of CovCath’s touchdowns were scored by sophomore quarterback Ben Dressman. The first one came on a 52-yard run early in the first quarter and the other was a 1-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
Between those two touchdowns, The Colonels had to punt the ball away on eight possessions.
“We needed to sustain some more drives,” Wirth said. “We had a couple things not go our way and we didn’t make some plays when we could have, but that happens when you play against a good team.”
The leading tackler for Highlands was senior linebacker Thomas Wrobleski with seven stops. He said the defense knew exactly what it had to do to against the Colonels.
“We knew if we could stop the run they weren’t going to be able to pass on us,” Wrobleski said. “So we really focused on the run this week (in practice) and containing them. They got outside on us a couple times for some big runs, but they really didn’t pass on us at all.”
at HIGHLANDS 7-14-0-7–28
H–Houliston 4 run (Dougherty kick)
CC–Dressmam 52 run (kick failed)
H–Houliston 10 run (Dougherty kick)
H–Harris 3 run (Dougherty kick)
H–Harris 3 run (Dougherty kick)
CC–Dressman 1 run (Litzler kick)
RECORDS: Highlands 12-1, CovCath 10-3.