Highlands Extends Winning Streak Over Covington Catholic
If Highlands and Covington Catholic were brothers, Highlands would be the older one.
The Bluebirds had beaten Cov Cath 13 straight times coming into their game on Saturday, and even in an off year (to Bluebird standards), Highlands extended that winning streak after edging the Colonels, 14-10.
It hasn’t been a very memorable first season for new Colonels head coach Eddie Eviston who is now 2-6 on the year. Highlands knows the feeling at 3-5. In an unusual season that finds both of these traditional powerhouses with losing records, the game turned out to be evenly matched game and came down to the wire.
“I’ve been here a long time and all this game does is figure out where we are going to play each other in the playoffs,” said Highlands head coach Brian Weinrich after the game.
On the first Cov Cath possession, the Colonels began to move the ball across midfield, inching closer into scoring position, but then sophomore quarterback A.J. Mayer was sacked from his blindside and fumbled the ball away. The Colonels were able to escape unscathed, though, as Highlands missed a field goal keeping the game scoreless.
CCH then took the ball and put together a nice drive that put them inside the five, but they stalled in the run game and settled for a field goal, giving them an early 3-0 lead. On the Colonels' next possession, they again drove the field and this time let Anthony Best punch it in from four yards out to give Cov Cath a two-possession lead, 10-0. At that point, it looked like it might be the Colonels' day as they had easily outperformed the Bluebirds on offense in the early going, but little did they know, that would be the last they would score.
After the Cov Cath touchdown, the Bluebirds went on a 10-play, 78-yard drive capped off by a Jared Pulsfort touchdown run, narrowing the score to 10-7. Highlands went with a quicker, no-huddle attack that seemed to turn the day around for them.
“That’s what we do, it’s who we are, and it’s how we train year round. They played great defense and coming in, we knew how hard it would be to get first downs, but sometimes you just got to make plays,” Weinrich said.
Then in the second quarter, Highlands again went on the offensive charge, highlighted by two long pass plays that once more saw the Bluebirds inside the red zone. They did not disappoint when Grant Murray took a delayed handoff in the shotgun and was tackled in the end zone for another Highlands score. That put the defending state champs up 14-10 and would be the only scoring of the rest of the game.
The second quarter was a slug fest between two determined defenses as each team stopped any chance of long gains and forced the opposing defenses into many punts or fourth-down stops. In the third quarter, Highlands had a chance to extend their lead with a 45-yard field goal, but missed wide right, keeping the Colonels in the game. The snap on the field goal was a little shaky, keeping the holder from getting the ball all the way to the ground.
In the fourth quarter, down by four and with the ball around midfield, Cov Cath took over after a big sack by linebacker Jack Maile. The clock showed just over six minutes left and the pressure mounted for the Colonels.
The drive started well with wide out Ryan McGinnis taking the ball around the right side on an end-around for 14 yards. A few first-downs later, Mayer was under center at the Highlands 28 yard line and looking to go ahead with a big play. Instead, he hung in the pocket, surveyed the field and saw McGinnis open in the across the middle. His pass, though, was about two inches too high, causing the ball to go between the hands of McGinnis and into the hands of the waiting defensive back Bradley Greene. After catching the interception at the eight, Greene returned it all the way back to midfield, killing the best chance the Colonels would have to go on top late.
With a couple of first downs, Highlands had the chance to milk the clock and call it a game, but to the Colonels credit, their defense held firm and forced a punt giving them another glimmer of hope. Mayer and crew took over with just under two minutes and no timeouts. On their first play, they called a curious handoff to Grant Dyer for little gain. On the next play, Mayer dropped back and threw it right at Trey Bowden for his second thrown pick in as many possessions. From there, the Bluebirds were able to take a knee and the game.
“It was huge. We knew if we could keep the game in front of us, and play smart, we’d be good. The two big interceptions, those were offensive guys just a couple of weeks ago. They’ve been getting better in practice, better in games,” Weinrich said.
With only two games left in the regular season, the Bluebirds can finish their schedule with an even record at 5-5 if they win games against Grant County and at Boone County.
“Whatever our record is doesn’t matter. What matters is that we’re ready to play our next game. We have to refocus tonight. We have to get home and start watching this film and then we have to be ready to put ourselves into position to win the district,” Weinrich said.
The Colonels will not have a winning record in their regular season as they have only two games left on the schedule against Dixie and Scott County. That likely means they will be on the road in postseason play this year.
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor