Maybe it was their pregame ritual. Maybe it was a message they were trying to send.
When Highlands did their usual punt the ball and the whole team chase after it in warmups, Carson Class’ punt happened to go over to Cooper’s side of the 50. The Jaguars were right there.
Some may have thought of it as a sign of disrepect, but Highlands made Friday night’s game with the Jaguars personal and left Union with a 58-51 victory.
“We do that before every game. Carson actually had a really good punt and the ball got to over midfield and into their huddle,” Bluebirds quarterback Brody Benke said. “They got mad, we started talking and it was definitely personal with all the chatter that happened through the week.”
Benke tallied 420 total yards, 233 passing, another 187 rushing to go with seven touchdowns, five passing, two rushing. Cameron Giesler got yard after contact after yard after contact and finished with 203 rushing yards as the Bluebirds racked up 652 yards of offense, 419 of them on the ground.
“Those guys are some dogs up front. We can run behind them forever,” Giesler said.
In the highly anticipated matchup between the Class 5A, District 6 mates, it was the Bluebirds taking the wind out of the Jaguars sails early, racking up 406 yards of offense in the first half as they built a 34-17 edge.
It looked as if they were going to run away with things after recovering a fumble deep in Jaguar territory with a 58-37 lead and under six minutes to play, but the Jaguars made it interesting from there.
“Here’s the difference compared to the last five years. In the past it seems like when we’ve gotten down, our kids have kind of just packed it in a little bit on us and they didn’t do that tonight,” Jaguars coach Randy Borchers said.
A 93-yard interception return by Austin Perriman got the Jags within two scores, their first defensive stop of the evening. Another stop followed, Cooper marching 78 yards in 25 seconds when Cam O’Hara hit Austin Alexander for a 20-yard touchdown pass to make it 58-51 with 1:56 to play.
Out of timeouts, the Jaguars tried a third straight onside kick, but like the prior two times, Highlands was able to recover and run the clock out from there.
O’Hara finished with 555 passing yards and six touchdowns, hitting Isaiah Johnson eight times for 280 yards and three scores. Alexander finished with 13 receptions for 169 yards and also finding the end zone three times.
The run game was the difference, Cooper having to abandon the run after the first half resulted in negative 13 rushing yards. They ran 20 plays in the second half, all of them passing.
“Offensively we were able to do some things that we can build on, but we got to get a run game going. That won’t help us in big games and we’ve got to get something going with our run game,” Borchers said.
Highlands had no issues with its ground attack, but much like they have all season, showed they can beat a defense in a variety of ways. Friday’s offensive onslaught puts them at 217 points their last four games, nearly flawless in doing so.
“That’s the beauty of our offense. On any given night, you never know who at the end of the night is going to end up with a big night. Offensive line is playing great and opening things up for these guys,” Bluebirds coach Bob Sphire said. “Mix in the pass when we need to. Had over 400 yards at halftime. That’s massive.”
Carson Class was Benke’s top target, hauling in six passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. The win gives the Bluebirds a leg up in district play, the two expected to compete for the district title. Dixie Heights will have their say in that next week when the Bluebirds hit the road for the third straight week to take on the Colonels.
With Benke driving and his horses up front, the Bluebirds have to be feeling pretty good headed into Edgewood.
“Dixie has been playing really, really well. Might be another shootout, very well could be,” Sphire said.
Cooper will look to regroup at county rival Conner next week.
HIGHLANDS 58, COOPER 51
HIGHLANDS — 14-20-10-14 — 58
COOPER — 3-14-13-21 — 51
(H) Benke 5-yard pass to Arnold (9:49) Run failed
(C) Taylor 28-yard FG (4:49)
(H) Benke 43-yard pass to Class (3:17) Litmer pass to Arnold
(C) O’Hara 18-yard pass to Alexander (11:54) Taylor kick
(H) Benke 1-yard run (8:45) Nickelman kick
(H) Benke 60-yard run (5:34) Pass failed
(C) O’Hara 2-yard pass to Johnson (4:48) Taylor kick
(H) Benke 9-yard pass to Class (:29) Nickelman kick
(C) O’Hara 94-yard pass to Johnson (11:42) Kick blocked
(H) Giesler 6-yard run (7:18) Nickelman kick
(C) O’Hara 67-yard pass to Johnson (6:17) Taylor kick
(H) Nickelman 33-yard FG (1:04)
(H) Benke 60-yard pass to Class (9:50) Nickelman kick
(C) O’Hara 16-yard pass to Alexander (9:22) Taylor kick
(H) Benke 20-yard pass to Ferring (6:18) Nickelman kick
(C) Perriman 93-yard INT return (3:20) Taylor kick
(C) O’Hara 20-yard pass to Alexander (1:56) Taylor kick
Passing Yards: Highlands 233 (Benke 13/19, 5 TD), Cooper 555 (O’Hara 31/50, 6 TDs)
Rushing Yards: Highlands 419 (Giesler 26-203, Benke 27-187, James 8-26, Hinegardner 1-7, Surrey 2-(-)4 , Cooper -13 (O’Hara 3-(-)7, Maher 1-(-)6)
Receiving: Highlands (Class 6-145, Surrey 2-27, Ferring 1-20, Matteoli 1-18, Giesler 1-13, Arnold 1-5, Hinegardner 1-5) Cooper (Johnson 8-280, Alexander 13-169, Campbell 1-49, Ewell 5-38, Stanton 3-14, Maher 1-5)
Turnovers: Highlands 1, Cooper 1
Penalties: Highlands 10-95, Cooper 8-50
Records: Highlands (5-1, 1-0), Cooper (4-2, 0-1)