FORT THOMAS, Ky. - The 2016 US Marines Battle of the Gridiron Series starts off with revenge in the plot.
Four turnovers and a “Swiss cheese” defense for Highlands a year ago in the opener led to a 37-13 beat down from Cooper. It was the beginning of a nightmarish 1-5 start for the Bluebirds.
Head coach Brian Weinrich had to convey to his players that just because you have Highlands written across your chest it doesn’t mean that you are entitled on the football field. The Bluebirds are out to earn respect and victories this fall.
Cooper is a program on the rise under head coach Randy Borchers. Year after year the Jaguars hit new milestones as they enter their ninth season of existence. Very few schools can claim that they have beaten Highlands two years in a row. That will be a main motivating factor that Cooper will use to fuel their hunger for victory on Friday night.
COOPER JAGUARS (0-0) at HIGHLANDS BLUEBIRDS (0-0)
Kickoff: 7 p.m., David Cecil Memorial Stadium
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PLAYERS TO WATCH: Cooper’s Dante Hendrix is one of the premier players in Northern Kentucky. He had 53 receptions for 1,150 yards with 15 touchdowns as a junior. On defense, Hendrix came up with seven interceptions. As a returner, he had 508 total return yards with a punt return for a score. Senior quarterback Jared Lonaker will be in in his first year under center. He could end up being one of the hidden gems in the Bluegrass state. He won’t have to carry the load with Hendrix and running back Jaden Jackson the focal points of the offense. Senior Sander Rocksvag, a first-team NKFCA selection in 2015, will lead a young group of linemen.
Brady Gosney will be the fifth senior to start at quarterback for Highlands in the last five seasons. A trio of junior Bluebirds receivers – Nick Venemann, Braden Posey and Griffin Huber - will get their chance to shine. Making big plays in the secondary and on returns is what Brad Greene does for Highlands. He can change the momentum of a contest any time he can get his hands on the ball.
TEAM TRENDS: Cooper has won nine games or more three times in the last four seasons. They are a combined 35-18 in that span. The four years prior to that (the first four years of the program) the Jaguars were a combined 14-27.
Highlands' eight victories in ’15 was it lowest win total in eight years. The Bluebirds had won at least 13 contests every season dating back to 2007.
COOPER’S KEYS TO VICTORY: Line play on both sides of the ball will be crucial for the Jaguars. Cooper is young and inexperienced up front after losing a very cohesive group to graduation. Keeping the Highlands’ offense off the field proved to be a huge advantage in the Jags' big win over the Bluebirds last August.
HIGHLANDS’ KEYS TO VICTORY: When mistakes happen, the Bluebirds can’t lose their composure. How Highlands responds to adversity will correlate into how successful this team is. The Bluebirds can’t afford to be their own worst enemy if they are to make a deep postseason run.
Prediction: COOPER 31, HIGHLANDS 28