Sunday, August 29, 1999

Highlands 27, Evansville Harrison 14

New-look Bluebirds soar with second-half flourish

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — One could say the shadows of last year's greats, Derek Smith and Jared Lorenzen, hang over this Highlands football team. They did Saturday night, literally, as that duo watched from behind the Bluebird bench.

        What they saw wasn't the veteran 1998 bunch, which outscored opponents by 39.9 points per game. But these new Bluebirds will fly just fine, as evidenced by their late surge in a 27-14 beating of Indiana power Evansville Harrison in the St. Luke Hospitals Champions Bowl.

        ""What we're finding is this is a great character team, a great second-half team,” Highlands coach Dale Mueller said. “This is a team that wants to win badly.”

        Highlands' hunger never ceases. The victory Saturday extended the state's longest current winning streak to 17 games; Highlands has won 28 of its last 29 and 43 of 45.

        “This was a gut check,” Bluebird senior tailback Brenden Zenni said. “It showed we have the character to win state again.”

        Highlands (2-0) is the top-ranked team in the pre season Class AAA state coaches poll and stands 19th in Fox Sports Net's “Fox Fab 50” national ratings. That came on reputation.

        But the buzz the past eight days shifted to Covington Catholic (2-0), a hot pick for the AAA title. Highlands hears how it has only eight seniors and no stars.

        “There's a lot of questions about this team from people in the area,” Highlands senior defensive lineman/fullback Jess Meloche said. “They think all the talent graduated, but we think we filled in all those positions well. And we're the best-conditioned team in the state.”

        They looked it Saturday, for all their ammo came after halftime. Harrison (0-2), which ranked 12th in Indiana's big-school division after narrowly losing its opener to Indianapolis Ben Davis, dominated the first half.

        Harrison outgained Highlands 142 yards to 47 in that span. The Bluebirds had marched backward (64 penalty yards) more than forward. But Meloche's big play — stripping Harrison quarterback Andre Thomas and returning the fumble for a 28-yard touchdown — was enough for a 7-7 tie.

        “Things weren't going our way, which was a real character check for our offense,” Mueller said.

        Midway through the third quarter, Meloche ignited another quick strike by stripping Harrison fullback Dobbie Cook and recovering the fumble. The Bluebirds then went 51 yards in two plays, Zenni juking two defenders on a 33-yard TD run.

        Highlands upped its lead to 20-7 with a Gino Guidugli 20-yard TD strike to sophomore Nick Behymer.

        When Harrison cut the lead to 20-14 to open the fourth quarter, Highlands melted the clock with a 12-play, seven-minute scoring drive to ice matters. Highlands had 221 of its 268 yards after halftime, with the 5-foot-7 Zenni totaling 106 of his 117 rushing yards after intermission.

        “It's not always the size of the guy, it's the size of his heart,” Meloche said of Zenni.

        It wasn't a perfect game. Highlands was penalized 13 times for 114 yards and Guidugli occasionally struggled in a 9-for-19, 109-yard passing night. But it was a victory.

        Evansville Harrison .......  0  7  0  7—  14

        Highlands .......  7  0  13  7—  27

        Hi—Meloche 28 fumble return (Jones kick)

        EH—Strother 1 run (Gaudin kick)

        Hi—Zenni 33 run (Jones kick)

        Hi—Behymer 20 pass from Guidugli (kick blocked)

        EH—Q. Jackson 1 run (Gaudin kick)

        Hi—Guidugli 1 run (Jones kick)

        Records: Highlands 2-0, Evansville Harrison 0-2.


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