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Highlands wins offensive battle with Cooper, 58-51, in first Class 5A district seeding game for both teams

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

One offense was a model of consistency that led from start to finish. The other made several big plays during a late rally that came up short.

That’s a summary of the Class 5A district seeding game on Friday that ended with Highlands posting a 58-51 victory over Cooper in a battle between two talented teams that generated 1,197 yards in total offense.

Highlands quarterback Brody Benke rushed for 190 yards and completed 12 of 18 passes for 226 yards against Cooper. (File photo by Dale Dawn)

Highlands (5-1) scored on nine consecutive offensive possessions with a balanced attack that finished with 650 total yards (424 rushing, 226 passing).

When the Bluebirds took a 51-30 lead early in the  fourth quarter, it looked like the outcome was decided. But Cooper (4-2) outscored the visitors, 21-7, in the final nine minutes to take some of the sting out of the setback.

During the Jaguars’ late rally, sophomore quarterback Cam O’Hara threw a pair of touchdown passes and sophomore defensive back Austin Perriman scored on an 94-yard interception return.

Highlands has scored 217 points in its last four victories with the methodical offensive scheme installed by veteran head coach Bob Sphire. In Friday’s win, eight of the Bluebirds’ nine touchdown drives covered 65 yards or more.

“We’ve always tried to play with tempo, but we never sacrifice execution for tempo,” Sphire said. “We’re playing with great rhythm, but the biggest key is we want to be efficient, and we’re being really, really efficient right now.”

Highlands senior quarterback Brody Benke rushed for 190 yards and completed 12 of 18 passes for 226 yards in Friday’s game. The team’s leading rusher was senior Cameron Giesler, who picked up 204 yards on 26 carries.

Cameron Giesler

“It all starts with the offensive line,” Benke said. “Those boys up front are having a great season. Every game they come to play and it’s awesome to see.”

At 5-foot-6 and 185 pounds, Giesler is not a power running back, but he picked up a lot of yardage up the middle Friday with hard-driving offensive lineman clearing the way.

“That’s all you can ask for is big linemen who want to move people,” Giesler said.  “You get behind them and let them do the work and that’s all you have to do.”

Cooper’s offense revolved around O’Hara’s passing. He completed 31 or 50 for 581 yards to offset the team’s minus 34 yards rushing for a net team total of 547.

On the first play of the second half, O’Hara connected with junior Isaiah Johnson on a 94-yard touchdown play. Johnson was the game’s leading receiver with eight catches for 278 yards and three TDs. Junior tight end Austin Alexander also had a big night, catching 12 passes for 163 yards and three TDs.

“That quarterback of theirs is good and they’ve got nice receivers,” said coach Sphire. “They’re doing good stuff and they’re hard to get off the field, but we gave them a little life with things we didn’t do right.”

The top receiver for Highlands was senior Carson Class with six catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns. He picked up 104 yards on two of his scoring passes.

HIGHLANDS   14  17  13  14 — 58
COOPER           3  14  13  21 — 51

H — Arnold 4 pass from Benke (run failed)
C — Taylor 28 FG
H — Class 43 pass from Benke (Arnold pass from Benke)
C — Alexander 18 pass from O’Hara (Taylor kick)
H — Benke 1 run (Nickelman kick)
H — Benke 60 run (pass failed)
C — Johnson 2 pass from O’Hara (Taylor kick)
H — Class 9 pass from Benke (Nickelman kick)
C — Johnson 94 pass from O’Hara (kick failed)
H — Giesler 6 run (Nickelman kick)
C — Johnson 67 pass from O’Hara (Taylor kick)
H — Nickelman 33 FG
H — Class 61 pass from Benke (Nickelman kick)
C — Alexander 16 pass from O’Hara (Taylor kick)
H — Ferring 20 pass from Benke (Nickelman kick)
C — Perriman 94 interception return (Taylor kick)
C — Alexander 20 pass from O’Hara (Taylor kick)
RECORDS: Highlands 5-1, Cooper 4-2.

High school football scoreboard

District seeding games
Highlands 58, Cooper 51
Dixie Heights 53, Boone County 0
Conner 38, Scott 0
Beechwood 56, Gallatin County 0
Bracken County 35, Walton-Verona 7
Covington Catholic 61, Holmes 0
Other games
Harrison (Ohio) 33, Campbell County 7
Lloyd 45, Newport 8
Ludlow 61, Pendleton County 12
Simon Kenton 43, Lexington Dunbar 14
Raceland 40, Newport Central Catholic 14
Gamble Montessori 57, Bellevue 8
Dayton at Marion County, 3 p.m.   

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