FORT THOMAS, Ky. – Albeit with an unfamiliar record, the Highland Bluebirds beat a familiar rival to make it to a familiar spot in the Kentucky state postseason.
Highlands rode big nights from a trio of seniors, running back Nick Kendall, wide receiver Eric Miller, and linebacker/kicker Jared Dougherty, to pull away late and knock off turnover-plagued Covington Catholic 44-22 Friday night at David Cecil Memorial Stadium in Ft Thomas.
Highlands (8-5) started well, forcing a three-and-out to open the game, and Dougherty hit a 38-yard field goal to put Highlands up 3-0 with 7:19 left in the opening quarter.
Then, the Bluebirds stopped the Colonels on 4th-and-2 at the Highlands’ 31. The offense went back to work, going 69 yards on seven plays, capped when senior quarterback Austin Hergott hit Miller from 15 yards out to make it 10-0 Bluebirds with :49 left in the first quarter.
“We knew we weren’t going to run it on them early, we knew we had to stick with it and keep grinding, because they’re an excellent run defense.” said Highlands head coach Brian Weinrich. “We had to hit some passes to keep the chains moving, and open up the run game.”
On the first play of the next drive, CovCath (5-8) committed its first turnover on the night on an errant option pitch that was recovered by Dougherty at the Colonels’ 18. But, the CovCath defense stiffened, and Highlands settled for a 28-yard Dougherty field goal with 11:57 left in the half to make it 13-0.
After the two teams traded punts, CovCath went 57 yards on 11-plays right before halftime, cutting the lead to 13-7 when quarterback A.J. Mayer found Cameron Pitzer in the end zone with 1:24 left in the half. Dougherty’s 60-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the half came up a little short.
CovCath forced a Highlands’ punt to start the third quarter, but lost their second fumble when Sam Taylor scooped the ball off the turf and returned it to the Colonels’ 35. Three plays later, Hergott found Miller again, this time covering 26 yards 8:29 left in the third to make it 20-7.
Highlands extended the lead later in the quarter when Dougherty added a 43-yard field goal to put the Bluebirds up 23-7 3:46 left in the third, and following the third lost CovCath fumble, Kendall ran it in from 28-yards out to make it 30-7 with 11:50 left in the game.
“The passing game in the first half really opened up the running game in the second half and we took advantage of it,” Kendall said. “I knew once the second half started, the running lanes would open because they would focus on the deep ball.”
CovCath wasn’t done, answering right back when Anthony Best finished off a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a six-yard run with 8:41 left, and it was 30-15 after Ryan McGinness converted the two-point conversion.
CovCath than forced a Highlands punt, and things got really interesting when wide receiver Ian Summe caught a short pass from Mayer went down the sideline 68-yards to make it 30-22 Highlands with 4:44 left.
Highlands put the game on ice shortly after that, when Kendall went in from 31 yards out to make it 37-22 Birds with 2:33 left. Kendall capped the scoring inside the last minute, thanks to CovCath turning it over on downs deep in their own territory, when he ran it in from 20-yards out his third rushing touchdown on the night.
Kendall ran for 222 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns, Miller caught six balls for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Hergott went 11-of-18 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Luke Lindeman had a sack, while Dougherty recovered two fumbles and Taylor recovered one.
Dougherty nailed 3-of-4 field goal attempts, found the end zone on nearly all of his kickoffs, and the 60-yard miss would have probably been good from 50.
“I came out to warm up, and Coach Weinrich came up and said ‘there’s no wind, it’s a perfect night,’” said Dougherty. “Our ball guys help me out, and I had a warm ball to kick tonight, it was great.”
Mayer was 14-of-19 for 156 yards and two touchdowns passing, along with 64 yards on 15 carries on the ground. Best also had solid numbers in the losing effort, running for 56 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.
The win was the Bluebirds’ second of the year over CovCath, and the 15th straight time in the series. Highlands will host Pulaski County (12-1) next Friday in the 5A semifinals, as the Maroons rallied to knock off upset minded North Laurel 28-24 in Somerset. Pulaski County has spent most of the year ranked in the top three of the Kentucky 5A AP polls.
CovCath 0 7 0 15- 22
Highlands 10 3 10 21- 44
H- Jared Dougherty 38 FG 7:19
H- Eric Miller 14 yard TD pass from Austin Hergott (Dougherty kick)0:49
H- Dougherty 28 FG 11:57
C- Cameron Pitzer 10 pass from AJ Mayer (Matt Kloska kick) 1:24
H- Miller 26 yard TD pass from Hergott (Dougherty kick) 8:29
H- Dougherty 33 yard FG 3:46
H- Nick Kendall 28 run (Dougherty kick) 11:50
C- Anthony Best 6 run (R. McGinnis run) 8:41
C- Ian Summe 68 pass from Mayer (Kloska kick) 4:44
H- Kendall 31 run (Dougherty kick) 2:33
H- Kendall 20 yard TD run (Dougherty kick) 0:50