Saturday, November 27, 1999

Highlands 76, Lawrence Co. 36

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brenden Zenni scores one of his five TD's.
(Craig Ruttle photos)
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        FORT THOMAS — In Kentucky football right now, there is Highlands. Then there is everyone else.

        The Bluebirds, absent this fall from USA Today's Super 25 after roosting there the past three seasons, made a bid Friday to rejoin the ratings. Their 76-36 beating of visiting Lawrence County in a Class AAA semifinal was so convincing, some fans will wonder if the title game needs playing.

        “I think this is as good a team as there has been here,” Highlands coach Dale Mueller said. “We're playing right now as good as a high school football team can play.”

        Highlands (13-1), ranked No.1 in the state, will meet No.4 Owensboro (13-1), which beat Bullitt East 21-6 Friday, for the state championship at noon next Saturday in Louisville's old Cardinal Stadium. The Bluebirds, defending state champions, already own a state-best 13 titles.

Highlands' Brett Hamblen returns a kickoff.
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        “I think a lot of people underestimated us this year,” junior wideout/defensive back Brett Hamblen said. “We've proved them wrong. We want (state) a lot worse than we wanted it last year.”

        Having set the single-season state scoring record of 801 points last year, Highlands faced a team Friday that threatened that mark. But sixth-ranked Lawrence County (12-2), which had scored 731 points with an average scoring margin of plus-39.9 per game, met an offense which scoffed at its.

        Highlands totaled 562 yards of offense Friday and scored what's believed to be the second-highest single-game total in school history. It scored 42 points in the game's first 12:31.

        “That's the best team I've seen,” Bulldogs coach Charles Williams said. “They're so quick, it was a mismatch from the get-go. They blew us away.”

        It was this kind of night:

        • On the opening kickoff, Highlands kicker Derek Chuke slipped and the ball went only 18 yards, but Highlands recovered.

        • Forcing numerous turnovers, the Bluebirds didn't begin a drive on their own side of midfield until they had scored five touchdowns.

        • Highlands had nine first-half penalties for 95 yards but didn't care — it led 56-18.

Gino Guidugli scrambles.
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        Highlands senior tailback Brenden Zenni carried 18 times for 196 yards and five TDs. Junior quarterback Gino Guidugli completed 10 of 14 passes for 244 yards and three scores. Hamblen caught four passes for 151 yards and a TD.

        “It's amazing what you can do when you play as a unit,” Zenni said. “At the start of the year, we weren't as in sync. Now we have totally blended together. The only ones who could stop us now are ourselves.”

        The Bluebirds are 54-2 the past four seasons, with just one loss to a Kentucky team in that span: double-overtime in the playoffs to Covington Catholic two years ago. They have since won 17 consecutive home games.

Adam Johnston just misses a fingertip catch.
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        The Bluebirds had to integrate several new starters early this season. In their lone loss, they allowed Elder 21 unanswered points in a 28-14 decision in September.

        “That's why we play those tough teams, because our focus every year is to peak in the playoffs,” Mueller said. “We have improved all year.”

        So let the nation remain ignorant. Highlands will win either way.

        “We're happy with our success,” Zenni said. “We don't need a ranking to tell us we're good.”

        Lawrence County ....... 6  12  12   6—36

        Highlands ....... 35  21   7  13—76

        H—Zenni 8 run (Jones kick)

        LC—Parker 70 pass from Short (run failed)

        H—Zenni 32 run (Jones kick)

        H—Johnston 28 pass from Guidugli (Jones kick)

        H—Grover 18 fumble recovery (Jones kick)

        H—Zenni 19 run (Jones kick)

        LC—Parker 56 pass from Short (run failed)

        H—Hamblen 86 pass from Guidugli (Jones kick)

        H—Zenni 10 run (Jones kick)

        LC—Hughes 3 run (pass failed)

        H—Mulrony 3 pass from Guidugli (Jones kick)

        H—Guidugli 2 run (Jones kick)

        LC—Hughes 5 run (run failed)

        LC—West 1 run (run failed)

        H—Zenni 3 run (Jones kick)

        H—Stapleton 25 pass from Donelan (pass failed)

        LC—Thornsbury 6 run (run failed)

        Records: H 13-1, LC 12-2.

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