A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

In battle of heavyweights, streaks intact for CovCath football in rough road game with Highlands, 21-14

By Marc Hardin
NKy Tribune contributor

All streaks are intact for the Covington Catholic football team after a tough road tussle with rival Highlands Friday night at wet and windy David Cecil Memorial Stadium in Fort Thomas.

In a much anticipated battle of state-ranked Northern Kentucky high school heavyweights, the top-ranked Colonels outslugged the No. 5 Bluebirds in the rain and hung on for a hard-fought 21-14 Class 5A district victory.

It was a defensive battle throughout for a pair of teams averaging a combined 80 points and 700 offensive yards per game. They fell way short of those totals Friday. Highlands outgained CovCath, 297-281. That’s right around the Bluebirds’ offensive average. The Colonels were averaging more than 450 yards per game.

Photos by Dale Dawn

“Our defense played big tonight,” CovCath coach Eddie Eviston said. “They made plays at key moments of the game.”

It’s CovCath’s third straight win in the storied series. The defending state champion kept alive a second straight perfect season by pushing its record to 8-0. The Colonels have won 23 consecutive games stretching back to last year’s season opener.

Highlands fell to 6-2.

“We feel good about the effort, but we’re disappointed,” Bluebirds coach Brian Weinrich said. “We wish we could have a couple plays back. I felt like we gave it to them.”

Though CovCath was favored, the outcome was in doubt until the penultimate play. Trailing by seven, Highlands had the ball fourth-and-seven at the Colonels’ 33 yard line on a long drive that started at its own 27 with 4 minutes and 55 seconds remaining. Running back Joe Buten, who had a big game with 140 yards rushing on 17 carries, ran up the middle and fell just short of the crucial first down with less than 20 seconds to play.

“You’ve got to make a decision at that point and we went with the hot hand in space,” Weinrich said of the delayed draw to Buten. “We felt like if we get a crease, he could make a play. If one guy misses the tackle, he’s still running.”

The Colonels took over on downs. They went into the victory formation and took a knee. Their defense could have taken a bow.

“Our offense was not clicking much at all,” Eviston said. “So it was key that the defense was able to put us in good field position at times.”

Michael Mayer led the Colonels with 10 tackles. He also had two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Jack Coldiron had eight tackles, three for losses, and an interception.

Following a scoreless first quarter, the game swung on a pair of Highlands turnovers that the Colonels converted into a pair of touchdowns.

Highlands scored first on the initial play of the second quarter, on second-and-six, with a two-yard Grady Cramer pass to Hunter Ahlfeld and Nick Bowman’s ensuing extra-point kick for a 7-0 lead. That completed a nine-play, 78-yard drive. It was the first time all season that CovCath trailed in a game. The Colonels had just one first down in the opening quarter.

CovCath answered with a score-tying 63-yard drive punctuated by Duncan Summe’s nine-yard jet sweep and Trey Gronotte’s kick that knotted it at 7.

The Colonels recovered a fumble deep in Bluebirds territory, stopping Highlands’ next possession. Two plays later, running back Casey McGinness was in the end zone on a three-yard run off left tackle. It was CovCath’s second touchdown in less than two minutes. Gronotte’s kick made it 14-7 and that’s the way it stayed at halftime.

McGinness led all rushers with 203 yards on 28 carries but he represented virtually all of the CovCath offense in a game where the Colonels lacked balance because of Highlands’ staunch pass defense. CovCath quarterback Caleb Jacob was 4-of-10 passing for 45 yards.

Coldiron’s third-quarter interception near the goal line set up CovCath’s third score, a two-yard McGinness run, the drive’s only play. Gronotte’s kick gave CovCath a 21-7 lead.

Highlands pulled to with seven and set the final score on Cooper Schwalbach’s three-yard run, capping a 14-play, 91-yard  third-quarter drive, but the CovCath defense held when it counted in the final minutes of a scoreless fourth quarter.

“In general, we have not had our starters playing a full game very often this year,” Eviston said of his unbeaten Colonels. “So to see these guys pull through in an intense game overall, and especially tense the last six minutes or so, is something we can build upon.”

COVINGTON CATHOLIC 0 14 7 0

HIGHLANDS 0 7 7 0

H-Ahlfeld 2 pass from Kramer (Bowman kick)
C-Summe 9 run (Gronotte kick)
C-McGinness 3 run (Gronotte kick)
C-McGinness 2 run (Gronotte kick)
H-Schwalback 3 run (Bowman kick)
RECORDS: H 6-2, C 8-0.

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