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Highlands Holds On, Downs Covington Catholic, 37-34

In a much better contest than the last time these two teams met in Fort Thomas, Covington Catholic fell just short in a spirited comeback attempt at Highlands in the quarterfinals of the KHSAA Class 4A State Playoffs, 37-34.

The Bluebirds were in complete command of the game up 30-13, midway through the third quarter when Highlands quarterback Beau Hoge completed perhaps one of the greatest runs in anyone's recent memory.

On his own 19-yard line, Hoge took the shotgun snap and faked the handoff on the read option, confusing a good number of the Colonels in the process. He found a chunk of open space in the flat right away and got to the sideline quickly. He made it all the way to midfield, slammed on the breaks to let a defender pass him up, took two more steps, slammed on the breaks again to let another guy whiff, cut it back to the middle of the field, broke a tackle and ran it in the remaining way for an 81-yard classic. Hoge had a terrific game before the long touchdown run, keeping plays alive for positive gains with his legs, and keeping his eyes downfield for open receivers when his protection broke down. He was the best player on the field already, but he cemented it with that run.

“I was able to pull it and really when I was able to get upfield, a couple of their guys were just flying up from behind me so I took a couple of false steps and I was able to get it back across field and instincts took over from there,” Hoge said of his touchdown run.

Hoge had 177 yards on the ground, including three rushing touchdowns.

With the Bluebirds up 37-13 now late in the second half, the game looked decided. The crowd was buzzing from the sensational highlight and it didn't appear the Colonels had any wind left, but they surprised everyone and suddenly turned it on.

On the possession after Hoge's run, the Colonels benefited from a pass-interference penalty on fourth down that set up Cov Cath on the three. Quarterback Adam Wagner ran it in for his third rushing touchdown of the game. The Colonels missed the extra point and the score was 37-19.

After forcing a punt, but starting inside their own five-yard line, Cov Cath quarterback Adam Wagner threw a bomb that hit Logan McDowell in stride and allowed him to take it in for a 92-yard score, vaulting the Colonels back into the game in a flash.

Now only up 11 points and the momentum having shifted in the other direction, some added pressure was applied to Hoge and the Bluebird offense. That could be part of the reason that the next Highland possession resulted in a Beau Hoge fumble that was recovered by the Colonels in enemy territory with 5:49 left in the fourth quarter.

On the very next play, Wagner went deep again, this time to Lee McClure for a 34-yard lob in the end zone that cut their deficit to five. When Ben Darlington took the ball across the goal line for the two-point conversion, it was down to a field goal to tie.

Highlands took over the ball with under five minutes left and it was up to Hoge and company to close out the game after failing to do so the possession before.

“Got to score, that's what I was thinking,” Hoge said about the last possession. “Just keep the clock running and score.”

The Bluebirds went to Nick Kendall four straight times on the read option, all for first downs. Cov Cath used their last time out with under two minutes left, but when Kendall accomplished his last first down run, Highlands took a knee three times and savored the victory, their 13th-straight against the Colonels.

“Yes, but I think (Cov Cath) counterbalances it because they give a little extra too,” Hoge said when asked if his team gets up more for the rivalry. “In the end, it's just two teams giving it their best and it's fun to win those games.”

Highlands is going for their seventh straight Class 4A state title.

Other Northern Kentucky Playoff Results:

Beechwood 34, Frankfort 21 (Class 1A)

Newport Central Catholic 42, Newport 26 (Class 2A)

Cooper 61, Anderson Co. 14 (Class 5A)

Dixie Heights 24, Simon Kenton 0 (Class 6A)

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor