Saturday, December 04, 1999

Highlands enters AAA title game with confidence




BY RAY SCHAEFER
Enquirer contributor

        Highlands doesn't worry about setting trends for Kentucky high school football excellence anymore. It is the standard.

        The Bluebirds defend their Class AAA championship against Owensboro at noon today at the Louisville fairgrounds' Cardinal Stadium. Highlands senior running back Brenden Zenni said there's no pressure to win title No. 14.

        “I'd just like to win for ourselves and our team that's worked so hard this year,” Zenni said. “We don't like to compare ourselves to previous classes.”

        Still, Highlands (13-1) has heard the same refrain all year: win a title now that Derek Smith, Jared Lorenzen and so many other standouts of last season have graduated.

        “We've come back and gotten better and better every game,” coach Dale Mueller said. “I'm proud of how this team has done.”

        The Bluebirds have scored 682 points, an average of 48.7 per game, while the defense allowed just 248, or 17.7 per contest.

        Don't look for any last-minute strategy changes today. Mueller's biggest decision could be which weapon to try first.

        Should Zenni add to his 1,408 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns? Or will junior quarterback Gino Guidugli (2,901 passing yards, 38 TDs) look for either junior Brett Hamblen (52 catches, 1,302 yards, 17 TDs), senior Adam Johnston (32 catches, 679 yards, nine TDs) or junior Brent Grover (23 catches, 364 yards, five TDs)?

        Owensboro coach Gordon Powers isn't looking forward to trying to contain Guidugli by possibly covering Hamblen with just one defensive back. He said Highlands' strength is its ability to spread its offense.

        “They don't have to beat 11 people,” Powers said. “They spread you out on offense to where, if they complete a pass, their receiver only has to beat one or two people to score. That's dangerous.”

        Powers' game plan is simple — give the ball to senior Getty Cavitt (1,445 yards, 19 touchdowns) and let him run behind senior guard Buster Ashley.

        “There's no secret to our offense,” Powers said.

        Powers said he wants Cavitt to carry about 20 times, with sophomores Justin Miller and Bo Smith totaling about 15 carries each.

        Mueller is taking nothing for granted.

        “They've got a lot of speed on defense; they've been shutting teams down; they're explosive in special teams,” he said.

        Hamblen is confident the Bluebirds can bring home another trophy.

        “It doesn't seem to me like there's that much pressure on our team, really, to do well because we know we're a good team,” Hamblen said. “If we just go out and play like we know we can play, we know we're going to win.”

AT A GLANCE
        • When: Noon today

        • Where: Cardinal Stadium, at Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, Louisville

        • Tickets: $8 adults, $6 students

        • What to watch: Besides trying to add to its state-best total of 13 Kentucky state championships, Highlands can make a bid to rejoin the national rankings.

        In Fox Sports Net's “Fox Fab 50” ratings, Highlands is No.11 in the 10-state Midwest region. It does not appear in the overall Top 50.

        Fox Sports Net rated the Bluebirds 19th overall (fourth in the Midwest) in preseason but dropped them out after an early loss to Elder. Highlands has appeared in at least one national rating each of the past four seasons.

        Take note of Highlands junior QB Gino Guidugli's numbers: .596 completion percentage, 2,901 yards, 38 TDs. It's a near mirror-image of the season Jared Lorenzen had two years ago — .583 completion percentage, 2,759 yards, 37 TDs — which set up his Mr. Football campaign last year.

        Speed kills, and Highlands is the state's fastest team.

        “Playing on AstroTurf (today) will only help us,” Highlands coach Dale Mueller said. “I think that will make us even harder to catch.”

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