UNION, Ky. - Two teams heading in opposite directions face off as surging Ryle hosts hobbling Highlands this Friday.
The home team Raiders are clicking on all cylinders. There is very little that they have done wrong to start the year. Aspirations are high in Union.
Highlands has lost the momentum from its thrilling come-from-behind win over Cooper in the 2016 opener. The Bluebirds are hoping to avoid a 1-3 start for a second straight season. But don’t count the Bluebirds out. They have the talent to spoil Ryle’s quest for a perfect year.
HIGHLANDS BLUEBIRDS (1-2) at RYLE RAIDERS (3-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Borland Stadium
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PLAYERS TO WATCH: Highlands is getting excellent offensive production from RB Grant Murray, RB Jared Pulsfort and WR Nick Veneman. Murray (322) and Pulsfort (233) have combined to run for 555 yards with each having found the end zone four times. Veneman is coming off a career day and currently has 15 receptions for 384 yards and four touchdowns.
There are so many weapons for the Ryle offense. It all starts with QB Tanner Morgan. The Western Michigan commit has thrown for 689 yards and five touchdowns. Junior RB Jake Chisolm has picked up where he left off as a sophomore and has run for 379 yards and four scores. The pass catching and running abilities of TE Jake Long and WR Bryce Ashley make it difficult for opposing coaches to game plan for every threat. The duo has combined for 107 catches for 1,444 yards and 12 touchdowns since the beginning of ’15.
TEAM TRENDS: Here is some irony. Highlands has scored almost three times as many touchdowns rushing as they have receiving, 11-4. The passing game has taken a backseat to the running game for the first time in ages. Outside of Veneman’s terrific numbers, eight other Bluebirds have combined for just 200 yards on 24 receptions with no touchdowns.
All signs point to a big day for Ryle, which is averaging 449.7 yards of offense per game. The Highlands defense is allowing 442.7 yards per contest. The Raiders run defense has been a pleasant surprise. They are only giving up 94.7 yards per game on the ground.
HIGHLANDS’ KEYS TO VICTORY: The defense needs to step up and play at a whole new level. The Bluebirds must treat this affair like it is a state title tilt. Highlands needs another receiver to step up in the passing game. That would keep the Ryle defense honest and prevent it from stuffing the box against the run.
RYLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY: Put the pedal to the metal and not let up from the start should be the Raiders' focus. Taking the heart out of Highlands early, then keeping that pressure on will make it a bountiful evening for Ryle.
Prediction: RYLE 38, HIGHLANDS 28