FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- Highlands needs a win.
It’s not so much because of the race for the local Class 5-A district title or to get the best seed possible in the upcoming state football playoffs. It’s not even really about gaining a 16th straight win over longtime district rival Covington Catholic.
The Bluebirds (1-6) just need a little success to build on. They’ve lost six straight games since a season-opening win over Cooper, including a 40-20 loss last week at Dixie Heights -- the first Highlands loss to Dixie in football since 2002.
“When you have success, it breeds success,” Highlands coach Brian Weinrich said. “That’s kind of what’s been holding us back so far.”
Highlands will have a chance at that big win when the Bluebirds host Covington Catholic (5-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The six Highlands losses this season have come to teams with a combined record of 31-11, including unbeaten Class 6-A Ryle and Simon Kenton.
“Every team we’ve played has been a really good team and that’s one thing,” Weinrich said. “The other side is we’ve just been inconsistent. We haven’t found consistency with all three phases of the game each week. We haven’t found consistency with all groups on one side of the ball executing.
“One thing I will say for them is when you go to practice on a Monday, you can’t tell what happened. Every guy is showing up every week and getting after it the best they can in practice and trying to make the team better each and every day.”
CovCath is looking to break another kind of losing streak. The Colonels have not beaten Highlands since a 25-15 win over the Birds on Nov. 11, 2006, in the Class 3-A state playoffs during CovCath’s last run to a state title. Since then, Highlands has won 13 straight in this heated rivalry.
Looking at records alone, it might seem as though this is the year for CovCath to break that streak. But the Colonels won’t look past anybody, especially the Bluebirds.
“They’ve got a lot of speed,” Covington Catholic coach Eddie Eviston said. “They have a lot of playmakers and they’re kind of dangerous. Offensively, they do some things well and that’s a concern of ours. We have to play disciplined defense and make sure they can’t make the big play. That’s the biggest thing.”
That’s not to say the CovCath staff and players are doing anything different this week because of the school on the schedule.
“We just do what we’ve done every week,” Eviston said. “We play a tough schedule week in and week out. We’re facing a worthy opponent and it’s definitely not different this week. I think everybody understands what type of rivalry it is, but our biggest approach is to treat it as a normal week. Stay in your routine.”
The biggest key for the Bluebirds will be to limit CovCath junior quarterback AJ Mayer and the explosive Colonels offense. Mayer has completed 110 of 197 passes for 1,592 yards and 14 touchdowns. Five Colonels receivers have hauled in 10 or more passes, including sophomore running back Casey McGinness who has 14 catches and has added 596 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
“Offensively, they’ve got weapons all over the place and it starts with their quarterback,” Weinrich said. “He’s just tremendous. He’s calm in the pocket, goes through his reads and almost always picks the right guy and puts the ball in a very catchable position."
Stalling Mayer and the Colonels early in the game would go a long way for the Highlands defense, which has allowed at least 42 points in five straight games.
“To play defense, you have to really trust what you’re doing,” Weinrich said. “It’s hard to build that trust when things really haven’t gone well. That’s a battle we’re still fighting -- to get every guy to completely trust what they’re seeing or supposed to be doing. The issue is not lack of effort.”
Another key for Highlands will be finding the best way to attack a dynamic CovCath defense. Senior quarterback Brady Gosney has completed 132 of 213 passes for 1,676 yards and 15 touchdowns, but he has thrown 10 interceptions. Junior Nick Veneman has caught 33 passes for 689 yards and 10 touchdowns while senior Grant Murray has carried for 506 yards and senior Jared Pulsfort has added 395 yards on the ground.
“We’ve got playmakers at all offensive positions,” Weinrich said. “We feel confident in getting a bunch of guys the ball in a bunch of different ways. We just have to figure out what we can do that particular game to put ourselves in the best position.”
While Highlands could use a win Friday to begin to turn its season around, a CovCath win would continue to build confidence in a team Eviston said has bought in to the system and is getting better and better each week.
“We understand it’s Highlands and we do understand that it’s been a long time since we’ve beat them,” Eviston said. “For us, more than anything, it might be the mental side of things. There has probably been some time in the last 10 years that CovCath should have beaten Highlands and they didn’t. They just didn’t make the plays or whatever. So the mental side of it, like ‘hey, we can do this,’ and things like that could be big after a victory.”