Friday, November 19, 1999

Highlands: New names, same dominance

Enquirer contributor

        It was expected that the loss of stars Jared Lorenzen and Derek Smitwould would reduce the offensive prowess of Highlands this season.Instead, they simply reloaded and the Bluebirds again are rampaging through Kentucky football.

        Highlands, which finished the season ranked No.1 in The Enquirer's coaches poll and Associated Press Class AAA poll as well as both computer ratings systems, has averaged 65 points in its first two playoff games. That's more than a three-touchdown increase over the regular-season average of 43.5.

        “It hasn't surprised me,” said coach Dale Mueller, whose 11-1 Bluebirds host 10-2 Dixie Heights tonight for the Class AAA regional title.

        “I was completely confident that this team had the potential to be a great team. I am very pleased with how well they played.”

        Mueller and his coaching staff faced the task of replacing most of the starters from last season's state championship team, including Lorenzen at quarterback, Smith at tight end and four of five spots on the offensive line.

        Junior Gino Guidugli took over at quarterback and classmate Brent Grover moved in at tight end, but Mueller says the new faces on the line — sophomore right tackle Rob Smith, junior center Mike Raleigh, junior left guard Andy Hill and junior left tackle Marc Mueller (no relation to the coach) — have been just as important. Senior guard Chad Thompson was the only returning starter.

        “The offensive line is the key to having a good offense,” Mueller said. “The longer the quarterback has to throw it, he's way more likely to have a completion. Our offensive line has done a great job.”

        “We knew coming into this year that we were going to have a good football team. A lot of those 801 points we scored last year were scored after the (starters) were out, so it was these kids who were scoring them.”

        Hill, who filled the all-purpose backup role being handled this season by junior Jeff Mason, said the Bluebirds sensed before the season that opponents thought Highlands might be down a little bit.

        “We heard talk about it, but you really can't say anything until the first game, so we went out there to make it happen,” Hill said.

        Highlands opened with a 50-15 victory over Hancock County. It scored 40 or more points six more times during the regular season, including three more of 50 or more, capped by a 63-0 victory over Holmes.

        “That's the game that stands out,” Hill said. “We functioned so well. Everybody was on the same page. We played the game the way it's supposed to be played.”

        Guidugli led the area with 2,067 passing yards and 22 TDs during the regular season. Junior Brett Hamblen caught 42 passes for 837 yards and nine TDs, while senior running back Brenden Zenni anchored the ground game with 1,045 yards.

        Last Friday, in a 62-26 second-round win over Harrison County, Guidugli threw six touchdown passes in the first half, four of them to Hamblen.

        “I remembered when Gino was the freshman quarterback,” Hill said. “It was awesome the way he and Brett worked together. Having those two together again, we knew it was going to be special.”


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