Sunday, December 05, 1999

Bluebirds defense allowed 10 points, scored 14


HIGHLANDS NOTEBOOK

BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Coach Dale Mueller, foreground, celebrates after his defense stopped Owensboro at the goal line just before the half.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        LOUISVILLE — Offense is always an eye-grabber. A producer of an A&E documentary about youth sports called The Enquirer last week for info about Highlands, considering it for a feature, after seeing on the Internet it had scored 76 points in its Kentucky state football semifinal.

        But defense won Highlands a state championship Saturday. The Bluebirds' defense scored more points (14) than it allowed in a 48-10 beating of Owensboro.

        “Offense gets the glory, but defense wins the games,” Highlands junior defensive end Ben Scott said. “And our defense is amazing.”

        With its offense struggling through a scoreless second quarter, Highlands had a scary moment just before halftime. Down 21-10, Owensboro had first-and-goal at the Highlands 1, but the Bluebirds stuffed two consecutive running plays to end the half.

        Then it held Owensboro to 28 second-half yards and forced four second-half turnovers. It outscored the Red Devils 14-0 in the half, as senior Jess Meloche returned a fumble for a touchdown and Adam Johnston returned an interception for another score.

        “We've been scoring so many points, but our defense has been super all year,” Highlands defensive coordinator Mike Burns said. “This group is unsung.”

        Three Bluebird juniors earned first team all-state honors: Scott, linebacker Brent Grover and defensive back Brett Hamblen. Saturday, Grover totaled 16 tackles and forced a fumble, junior linebacker Mike Slawter had 11 tackles and a fumble recovery, and Scott to taled 10 tackles and a forced fumble.

        Senior Jess Meloche had eight tackles, the aforementioned fumble-return TD, an interception and a rushing TD. He gave his team a pep talk at halftime.

        “We just had to come out and hustle even harder,” Meloche said. “We came out stronger (after halftime) and showed we wanted it more.”

        OFFENSIVE BRUTE: Highlands' total of 104 touchdowns this season tied for the second-most in state history. The top total is 113, set last year by Highlands.

        The Bluebirds have averaged 94.3 TDs over the past four seasons, with all four of those TD totals (84 in '96, 76 in '97, 113 in '98 and 104 in '99) ranking among the top 11 single-season efforts in state history.

        JONES' RECORD: It took kicker Brennan Jones just two years as a starter to shatter the state's record for extra points in a career. The Highlands senior set a single-season national record last year when he made 90 PATs, and his 73 this fall — plus four as the backup kicker in 1997 — gave him a total of 167. The previous state career mark was 142, shared by North Hardin's Crad Jaggers (CQed) (1992-95) and Harrodsburg's Brock Sims (1996-99).

        NOTABLES: Highlands senior Brenden Zenni ran 15 times for 122 yards, an 8.1 average per carry. ... Hamblen had two kickoff returns for a total of 146 yards — including a 91-yard score — and caught three passes for 53 yards.

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