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Defensive take-aways in fourth quarter transform tight game into 28-7 victory for Highlands

Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

After turning the ball over on downs twice in the third quarter, Highlands got a much needed lift from its defense and defeated Simon Kenton, 28-7, on Friday in Independence.

A pass interception and a fumble recovery in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter led to back-to-back touchdowns for the Bluebirds and turned a tight game into a rousing victory over the Pioneers.

Highlands defensive lineman Brennan White knocks the ball out of Simon Kenton quarterback Chase Crone’s hands for a fumble in the fourth quarter. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“That’s what football is all about,” said Highlands coach Brian Weinrich. “You get turnovers and you can completely turn the tide of the game. We’ve been opportunistic defensively, and it’s really helped us.”

The Highlands defense that had 11 take-aways in its first two games added three more to that total on Friday.

The first one was a pass interception by junior defensive back Jason Noe late in the second quarter and the Bluebirds had a 14-7 lead at halftime.

Early in the fourth quarter, Highlands senior linebacker Mason Schwalbach partially deflected a pass and the ball wobbled into the hands of teammate Jacob Brass, who returned it to the 10-yard line.

On the next play, senior running back Tyler Brune took it into the end zone and Brennan Haigis kicked the extra point to give the Bluebirds a 21-7 lead with 9:38 remaining on the clock.

That seemed to be the tipping point in the game after the Highlands offense came up empty on two drives into Simon Kenton territory in the third quarter.

“We struggle and the offense picks us up and then when the offense struggles the defense just has to pick it up,” Brass said. “It’s a team game and everybody’s just trying to make plays.”

A few minutes later, the Bluebirds got the ball back when junior linebacker Mason South scooped up a fumble by Simon Kenton freshman quarterback Chase Crone and advanced it to the 34-yard line. Three plays later, Highlands senior quarterback Collins Hollingsworth scored on a 4-yard run to make it 28-7 with 7:49 remaining.

Simon Kenton receiver Evan Mulberry hangs on to a pass in the end zone to score the Pioneers’ lone touchdown. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“I saw the ball pop loose and knew I had to get it for our offense and give them a chance to score,” South said. “It was pretty exciting. I was just glad I could the get the ball so the offense could put more points on the board.”

The two fourth-quarter turnovers affected the final statistics. At halftime, Highlands had a slim 188-161 advantage in total yards. The Bluebirds ended up with 343 yards compared to the Pioneers’ 257.

“I think the key to our whole D has been our defensive line,” coach Weinrich said. “You’re going to block us once in a while when you’re double our size, but we’re going to squirt through and get some negative plays and get some quarterback pressures.”

Both teams put together a lengthy scoring drive on successive possessions in the first quarter. Highlands scored first on a 14-yard pass from Hollingsworth to Jake Welch. Simon Kenton tied it when Evan Mulberry caught a 17-yard pass from Crone in the back of the end zone.

Highlands regained the lead in the second quarter when wide receiver Hunter Ahlfeld made a leaping catch and fell across the goal line on a 34-yard pass play. Haigis kicked the extra point to put the Bluebirds ahead, 14-7, and the score remained the same until the two take-aways in the fourth quarter set up touchdowns for Highlands.

“We came out and played a pretty solid second half,” Weinrich said. “I wish we could’ve gotten a couple more (touchdowns) in and could’ve got the ball back a little sooner (on defense), but when you play a team like that we’ll take a win anyway we can get it.”

Hollingsworth completed 19 of 36 passes for 193 yards. The Bluebirds’ leading rusher was Brune, who picked up 89 of the team’s 150 yards with most of his carries coming in the second half.

Simon Kenton had 135 yards rushing with Crone picking up 62 and Austin Hammack getting 61. Crone completed 11 of 22 passes for 122 yards in his fourth varsity game.

HIGHLANDS          7   7  0 14 — 28
SIMON KENTON   7   0  0   0 — 7
H — Welch 14 pass from Hollingsworth (Haigis kick)
SK –Mulberry 17 pass from Crone (Seger kick)
H — Ahlfeld 34 pass from Hollingsworth (Haigis kick)
H — Brune 10 run (Haigis kick)
H — Hollingsworth 4 run (Haigis kick)
RECORDS: Highlands 3-1, Simon Kenton 2-2

High school football scoreboard

Friday’s games
Beechwood 26, Corbin 10
Bellevue 42, St. Bernard (Ohio) 28
Ryle 46, Boone County 0
Cooper 36, Campbell County 0
Covington Catholic 45, Dixie Heights 0
Dayton 49, Gallatin County 14
Highlands 28, Simon Kenton 7
Louisville Holy Cross 21, Holmes 14
Cincinnati Country Day 38, Holy Cross 20
Newport 63, Bracken County 8
Newport Central Catholic 10, Walton-Verona 7
Bethel-Tate (Ohio) 38, Scott 33
Saturday’s game
Conner 24, Lloyd 12

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