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Friday Night Battle: Cov Cath vs. Highlands

Covington Catholic continues their string of tough opponents as they travel to Fort Thomas to take on Highlands on Friday night for their first district game of the season. The Bluebirds are unbeaten so far this year and have lost just three regular season games in the past five seasons. Last year, they beat Cov Cath twice, once in the regular season and again in the postseason. Highlands has appeared in the state championship game for eight straight seasons.

Cov Cath is no slouch either, though. After taking a tough one on the chin at Moeller, the Colonels bounced back nicely with an impressive win over Henderson County. They are fresh, coming off of their bye week, and their quarterback Adam Wagner is second in Northern Kentucky with 12 touchdowns and has thrown only three interceptions in four games.

“We're the best we've been in a couple of years. Kids feel great, we're pretty darn healthy, we got everybody that we need and want and we're feeling pretty good,” head coach Dave Wirth said about the freshness of the bye week.

In their last game, the Colonels ran the ball down the throat of Henderson County, gaining big chunks of easy yardage and wearing down the opposing defense in the process. Though their typical offensive attack has come more through the air this season, their ground assault in the last game showed they can be flexible in their approach.

“We're not so big and bad that when teams load the box that we just say 'hey we're going to pound the ball at you'. We have a good quarterback, we have great wide receivers so when teams do that, we throw the ball.”

Highlands has displayed some differences from years past with first-year coach Brian Weinrich at the helm after taking over for longtime coach Dale Mueller who won 11 state titles at the school.

“They do some things differently on both sides of the ball. Coach Weinrich has made a few really nice tweaks to their offense to take advantage of the types of personnel they have. Coach Mueller being gone hasn't changed the dynamic of the game, though, that's for sure.,” Wirth said.

The Bluebirds feature a potent passing attack led by senior quarterback Beau Hoge who has 10 touchdowns and over a 1,000 yards through the air. His primary target is receiver Alex Veneman, who is second in the region with 444 yards and seven touchdown catches in the team's four games. Keying on Veneman might be a priority for Covington Catholic this week, but will not force the Colonels to overhaul their entire gameplan.

“They have a bunch of good wide receivers and one great wide receiver, Alex Veneman. Highlands every year seems to have one great receiver and they certainly do again this year, so obviously we might look at him an extra time, but we're not going to radically change how we play defense just because they have a couple of good receivers,” said Wirth.

Alex Wagner has become a standout defensive back for CCH this season by making big plays at key times and also showing himself to be a sure tackler. His interception in the second half of Cov Cath's last game against Henderson County, combined with an excellent return, ensured the victory for the Colonels and proved to be what Wirth described as the nail in the coffin. Wagner and his secondary mates must come through again on Friday for his team to escape with a win.

The game is an important one for everyone involved, but the outcome is likely to have a bearing on later in the season come playoff time.

“For the kids I think it's strictly the Highlands game but the most important thing about this game for the coaches is that it sets the stage for who has the home-field advantage in the playoffs. We know darn well that regardless of how it shakes out, we will have to play them again and they know that as well.”

Highlands has defeated the Colonels in the postseason the past three years, and Cov Cath hasn't beaten the Bluebirds since 2006.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor