FORT THOMAS - Boyle County had Highlands on its heels at home Friday, leading by nine points at the half with momentum on its side.
But two quick second-half turnovers changed everything, as the Bluebirds seized momentum early in the third quarter and then wore down the Rebels in a 52-31 win in the teams’ season opener at David Cecil Stadium.
Highlands scored two straight touchdowns off Boyle fumbles to start the third quarter to take the lead for good and scored 37 unanswered points in the second half. The Bluebirds scored 19 points of Boyle turnovers.
“They wore us down a little bit, but at the same time you can’t turn the ball over and you can’t miss tackles,” Boyle coach Larry French said. “We got very poor play out of our defensive front and our linebackers today.
“We couldn’t stop them on defense. They got momentum and it was like a freight train going through there. We’ve got a lot of kids going both ways right now. It just seemed like we wore down midway through the third quarter.”
The Rebels played in the first half like they were poised to snap the five-time defending state champion’s 20-game winning streak. They dominated up front and led 24-15 at halftime and were getting the ball to start the third quarter. But on the third play, a botched handoff gave Highlands the ball at the Boyle 19-yard line, and quarterback Donovan McCoy went in from 2 yards out three plays later as the Bluebirds trimmed the lead to 24-22 with 9 minuts, 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
On Boyle’s next series, the Rebels drove to the Highlands 38, but quarterback Casey Whittle was sacked and fumbled the ball away to give Highlands possession at the Boyle 45. It didn’t take long for the Bluebirds to capitalize, with McCoy taking a keeper right and going in from 23 yards out to give his team the lead for good at 28-24 with 6:14 left in the quarter.
“We had the ball in the second half and they hadn’t stopped us the whole game. They never did stop us to be honest, we stopped ourselves with turnovers or dropped passes or whatever it might be,” French said. “We did everything wrong in that third quarter, and got in a hole and could never get out.”
From there, the wheels came off and Highlands used its depth to pound away at the Rebels.
“I don’t know if we took the wind out of their sails (in the third quarter). We’ve just got a lot of good football players. We’ve got 90 guys on our team; we’ve got 50, 55 of them ready to play varsity football right now,” said Highlands coach Dale Mueller, who rotated eight offensive and eight defensive linemen with no players going both ways. “So we just sub so many guys. Their guys have got a lot of fight, but it’s just hard for 18 guys to play 50 guys.”
Jaylen Hayes broke two tackles on his way to an 80-yard touchdown run after Boyle was forced to punt, and McCoy capped the Bluebirds’ big third quarter with a 49-yard touchdown run and then threw a two-point conversion to Zach Harris to make it 43-24 entering the fourth period.
Highlands, which was held to 67 yards rushing in the first half, finished with 354 yards on 35 carries and rolled up 446 yards of total offense. Harris ran for 112 yards, and McCoy finished with 100 on nine carries with four touchdowns.
Boyle ran for 212 yards in the first half, but finished with just 263 yards on the ground and 401 yards overall. Seph Burke had 99 of his game-high 162 yards in the first half, and Lloyd Hall had 93 yards rushing with a touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, Evan Allen kicked a 20-yard field goal and McCoy added a 3-yard score after Whittle was intercepted before Boyle finally came back to salvage a scoring drive at the end of the game.
Whittle, who finished 10 for 22 passing for 139 yards, completed five of eight passes in a 77-yard drive, the last one going for a 26-yard score to freshman Josiah Robbins with 1:05 to play. Robbins had three catches for 64 yards, all on the final drive.
It was a terrific start for Boyle, which forced a Highlands punt, then went right down the field to score. Burke’s 20-yard run gave Boyle the ball at the 5, and then he went in from a yard out to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead with 6:27 left in the first quarter.
Hayes took the ball on a reverse on the ensuing kickoff and gave Highlands the ball at the Boyle 28. He scored four plays later, and McCoy ran in a two-point conversion for an 8-7 lead.
Boyle stuck to the ground and mounted an eight play, 74-yard drive capped by Hall’s 42-yard scoring run to take a 14-8 lead after a quarter. Burke came back with a 15-yard scoring run to make it 21-8 with 8:41 left in the first half.
“Our offensive line was really stepping up and driving people off the ball and opening up holes, and the running backs were seeing the holes and we were controlling the clock and putting the ball in the end zone. And that was basically the story in the first half,” French said.
Zach Harris scored from 12 yards out on Highlands’ next possession, but William Harris kicked a 21-yard field goal with 2:38 left in the half to give Boyle it’s 24-15 halftime lead.
At Fort Thomas
Boyle County 14 10 0 7 — 31
Highlands 8 7 28 9 — 52
Boyle — Seph Burke 1 run (Wiliam Harris kick), 6:27.
Highlands — Jaylen Hayes 4 run (Donovan McCoy run), 5:10.
Boyle — Lloyd Hall 42 run (Harris kick), :58.
Boyle — Burke 15 run (Harris kick), 8:41.
Highlands — Zach Harris 12 run (Evan Allen kick), 2:38.
Boyle — FG Harris 21, 2:38.
Highlands — McCoy 2 run (Allen kick), 9:59.
Highlands — McCoy 23 run (pass failed), 6:14.
Highlands — Hayes 80 run (Allen kick), 1:45.
Highlands — McCoy 49 run (Harris pass from McCoy), :00.
Highlands — FG Allen 20, 7:03.
Highlands — McCoy 3 run (kick failed), 2:52.
Boyle — Josiah Robbins 26 pass from Casey Whittle (Harris kick), 1:05.
First downs 22 15
Rushes-yards 49-262 35-354
Passing 139 92
Total Net Yards 401 446
Comp-Att-Int 10-22-1 4-10-1
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 2-7 8-65
RUSHING—Boyle, Seph Burke 28-162, Lloyd Hall 9-92, Aiden Hoskins 5-18, Kyle Kephart 1-minus 1, Casey Whittle 6-minus 10. Highlands, Zach Harris 19-112, Donovan McCoy 9-100, Jaylen Hayes 5-92, Ryan Donovan 2-50.
PASSING—Boyle, Whittle 10-22-1-139. Highlands, McCoy 4-10-1-92.
RECEIVING—Boyle, Robbins 3-64, Blake Mason 3-44, Austin Muntz 2-24, Hall 1-5. Highlands, Luke Turner 2-16, Colin Seidl 1-57, Brandon Hergot 1-9.