"I don't see a lot of difference in Boyle this year from last year," Highlands coach Dale Mueller said. "It's the same Boyle County football that I know and respect. I really think Chuck is doing a great job and the players at Boyle are terrific. I have great respect for their players because they not only are good, but they play hard. We just wish we could do things as well as Boyle."
Highlands has lost only to Cincinnati Elder 25-15 in a game that was played at Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the Cincinnati Bengals. Boyle has lost only to Lexington Catholic in a 43-42 offensive shootout.
"They have been pretty much unstoppable so far," Smith said. "Their defense is also a lot better than last year because they are doing a few different things."
Nevels now playing linebacker
One thing different is that Jordan Nevels has been moved from safety to linebacker. He's being recruited by numerous Division I schools, including Kentucky.
"We've used him some on offense, but mainly on defense," Mueller said. "It's been a real help for us to have him at linebacker, much like it has for Boyle to have (Greg) Peck there this year. Nevels is just as athletic guy who gets around the ball. He can involved in stopping the run or pass this way."
Highlands' defense has been opportunistic as Ben Guidugli has two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and three players - Isaac Scherrer, Michael Pryse and Mike Stowers - have returned fumbles for scores. Highlands is allowing 11.5 points and 220 yards per game.
"Highlands will have the best defense we've faced," Smith said. "They are going with a 3-5 look because they have so many good linebackers. They play a lot of kids, and they are all good."
Boyle's offense has been better than good. The Rebels are averaging 41 points and 492 yards per game behind the play of senior quarterback Brandon Smith. He's thrown for 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns and has been intercepted just twice in 107 throws. Smith has also rushed for 335 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns.
Junior Seth Tamme has five scoring catches, tight end Evan Teague three and Peck two. Quinn Givhan is averaging 102 yards rushing per game and has four touchdowns.
Highlands had no luck stopping Brandon Smith in last year's title game and Mueller says he's even better this year.
"I knew that would happen, too. He had a great year last year, but great players are never satisfied. He's doing everything better this year and that has just made their offense that much better," Mueller said.
Boyle giving up 25 per game
Boyle's weakness has been defense. The Rebels have given up 100 points, an average of 25 per game. Highlands is averaging 35.2 points and 294 yards per game.
Cornerback Phillip Dean leads Boyle with 16 solo tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups while linebacker Danny Commarford has 15 solo stops and 13 assists.
"They have most of their defense back from last year that shut us down in the state game," Mueller said. "I don't see any weaknesses. They are as tough as ever. Kelvin Turner (of Danville) made some good runs against them, but he's also very, very good."
Highlands does not have a feature back like Turner. Instead, the Bluebirds use a variety of backs.
"We have 10 different backs I feel good about," Mueller said. "We are very deep at that spot this year."
The same goes for quarterback because sophomore Chad Hudepohl has been forced into action because of starter Chase Cecil's illness. Cecil did not play last week and Mueller says he's not certain about his status for Friday.
Cecil is 17-for-30 passing for 369 yards and two scores, but Hudepohl directed a 55-14 victory over Boone County last week and is 9-for-13 passing for 170 yards and two touchdowns in his limited play.
"I didn't see a lot of difference in their quarterbacks," Chuck Smith said. "They roll a lot of backs in and they are all good. (Michael) Mitchell is really, really good. They are just loaded in the backfield. They also have a very good receiver in Nick Sheffield, a kid who hurt us last year.
"They are more of a run-oriented team this year, but they are capable of passing because of the personnel they have. They put a lot of pressure on your defense because they have so many weapons."