Boyle must beat Highlands again to win fifth title

December 04, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

When Boyle County beat Highlands 22-21 here Sept. 19, both coaches were hoping they would get a chance to play again because that would mean they would be playing for a Class AAA state championship.

Now that they have that rematch, coaches Chuck Smith of Boyle and Dale Mueller of Highlands both make it sound like they wish they weren't playing each other.

"It's hard to beat a good team twice," Smith said. "They are very, very good. They outplayed us that first game. They had more total yards than us and they are playing with even more confidence now. They have peaked at the right time."

"Boyle County has gotten a lot better since we played them," Mueller said. "Boyle is 57-2 the last 59 games. When they win, it never surprises me. Fortunately, we played a quality schedule to get ready for this game. You don't get to the state title game without a seasoned team, but you need more than that when you play Boyle County."


Boyle (14-0) will be going for a record fifth-consecutive state championship in Saturday's game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. Highlands (12-2) has a state-record 15 overall championships.

"It's a great matchup between two great teams," Mueller said. "But we are definitely the underdog."

Boyle is coming off a 35-21 win at Paducah Tilghman and beat a team that may have as many as six future Division I players. However, Boyle offensive coordinator Chris Pardue says Highlands is more talented.

"Tilghman has four or five outstanding players, but if you go by all 11 players out there, Highlands is more talented. Their defensive guys are all skilled and can all run," Pardue said.

The offense is potent, too. The Bluebirds average 31.9 points and 330 yards per game. Quarterbacks Chase Cecil and Brad Bardo have combined to throw for 1,909 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jordan Nevels leads a balanced rushing attack with 541 yards and eight scores while T.J. Kramer has 490 yards and nine touchdowns, including seven in the playoffs. Mitch McMahon had 39 catches for 955 yards and six touchdowns.

"McMahon is outstanding. He's got to be one of the best in the state. He can make acrobatic catches. He is their go-to guy," Smith said.

Yet Highlands ran the ball more out of power formations in beating Oldham County and Mason County the last two weeks and also went strictly with Cecil, a sophomore, at quarterback. They also gave the ball more to James Hubbard, who played only linebacker against Boyle in the first game.

"Hubbard was hurt early, but he was always in our plans," Mueller said. "Nevels is really a good runner, too. We use him all the time on defense and he had been hurt, but he's healthy for this game and he can do so much for us on both offense and defense.

"We've ran the ball more the last couple of games, but basically we want to take what the defense gives us. It's just that the Boyle defense doesn't give you much."

"They play and rotate a lot of backs," Smith said. "They are emphasizing the run more and that makes them even harder to stop because their linemen are smart and move their feet well. They caused us a lot of problems that first game."

Highlands amassed 368 yards of total offense in that first game. However, cornerback Seth Tamme and safety Ian Loughry both missed that game with injuries.

"We hope they will make a difference," Smith said.

Boyle relied on the passing of Brandon Smith to beat Highlands. He was 12-for-24 for 267 yards and one touchdown and ran for two more scores. This season he's thrown for 2,767 yards and 39 touchdowns and rushed for 800 yards and 15 more touchdowns.

"Brandon Smith is always a quality player and really is at the top of his game," Mueller said.

However, Mueller says he's not the only player his team has to stop.

"I voted Brad Cloud as the Class AAA Player of the Year," Mueller said. "He's such a versatile player. He can do so many different things and always gives a quality performance."

Cloud has 40 catches for 673 yards and eight scores and he's ran 42 times for 320 yards. He's second on the team with 105 tackles and has a team-high five interceptions.

"Greg Peck is one of the best juniors in the state," Mueller said. "We knew he was a quality player the first time we played them. He's fast, athletic and aggressive."

Peck has 26 catches for 590 yards and seven touchdowns. He's also got four interceptions.

Mueller says he could go on and on about Boyle's talent.

"There is not a hole in their scheme. They have numerous quality players. I won't say they don't have a dominant player because they have a lot of them," Mueller said. "They have so many skilled players and some really good linemen, too. For us to win, we would have to play the best game we have all year."

Chuck Smith has the same feeling. Then again, Boyle has seemed to do that in every big game this season in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

"Our players have exceeded expectations this year, but they realize we have not finished the job yet," the Boyle coach said. "We've got one more win to go to get where we want to be."

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