The 2010 season is in the books and we continue to look back at our Team of the Year nominees by examining the fantastic run made by the Highlands Bluebirds in Kentucky Class 5A. Highlands finished the season with a 14-1 record and won its fourth consecutive state championship and the 20th in school history.
The slogan for the 2010 Highlands football team was "20n10," as in winning the 20th championship in 2010. The Birds, who were the three-time defending state champs in 5A, was led by junior quarterback Patrick Towles. The grandson on Hall of Fame major league baseball pitcher Jim Bunning, Towles broke into the starting lineup in mid-season last year and has proved to be one of the best quarterbacks in the state. Towles, who can beat you with both his arm and his legs, led a balanced offensive attack that outscored its opponents 604-204
Here is a game-by-game recap of Highlands's 2010 season:
GAME #1 - HIGHLANDS 45, DuPONT MANUAL 14: Highlands opened the season with a route of the Crimsons from DuPont Manual. The Birds jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead on the strength of three rushing touchdowns by Corey Compton. Daniel Gold caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Towles in the second quarter to round out the first-half scoring. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Highlands' defensive back Drake Bruns ran back an interception 50 yards for a touchdown. Adam Weinel, who was six-for-six in extra point attempts, kicked a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, followed by a Colin Seidl 43-yard touchdown run. The Bluebirds' defense forced three turnovers and gave up just 63 yards rushing to the Crimsons.
GAME #2 - HIGHLANDS 29, RYLE 14: The Bluebirds hosted the Ryle Raiders in the first game of a season home-and-home series. Senior Brian Gall got Highlands on the board first with a 13-yard touchdown run with three-and-a-half minutes left in the first quarter. Ryle countered to tie the score 7-7 when quarterback Conner Hempel connected with Caleb Lonkard on a 25-yard pass play for a score in the closing seconds of the opening quarter. The Raiders took the lead 14-7 when Travis Elliott found pay dirt from the two-yard line. Highlands almost tied the score on the final play before halftime when Towles threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Gold, but the extra point attempt failed to make the halftime score 14-13 in favor of Ryle. The second half belonged to Highlands. Compton, who rushed for 96 yards on 22 carries, scored two third quarter rushing touchdowns and Weinel kicked a 31-yard field goal in the fourth as the Birds went on to win it 29-14. Jordan Streeter rushed for 104 yard as Towles struggled with three interceptions. The defense caused three turnovers as Bruns intercepted one pass and recovered a fumble.
GAME #3 - HIGHLANDS 50, BEECHWOOD 24: Towles bounced back nicely versus Beechwood after struggling the previous against Ryle. The junior signal-caller had his best game to date by going 11-for-17 and throwing for 288 yards and five touchdowns. The Birds jumped out to an early 8-0 lead when Towles connected with Gall on a 10-yard scoring play and then the quarterback rushed for the two-point conversion. The lead was widened to 15-0 when Towles threw a 59-yard pass to Gold. The Highlands' defense scored a pair of touchdowns to all but put the game out of reach. Ethan Bishop recovered a fumble in the Beechwood end zone and Ty Seidl returned a fumble 25 yards to make the score 29-0 at the end of the first quarter. Ian McBurn caught a 10-yard touchdown pass for Towles to open the second quarter and give Highlands a 36-0 lead. Beechwood finally scored with a Max Nussbaum touchdown run but Gall caught 69-yarder from Towles and the mini-threat by Beechwood was squashed. The Tigers did score a field goal just before the half and two third quarter touchdowns to cut the Highlands lead to 43-24. Gall, who caught seven passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns, caught his third score on a 56-yard play for give the 'Birds its final margin of victory 50-24. Gold also had a big night gaining 94 yards on three receptions.
GAME #4 - HIGHLANDS 34, WITHROW 27: Highlands played host to head coach Dale Mueller's former team the Withrow Tigers. Withrow head coach Doc Gamble did a great job of game-planning to stop Towles from beating the Tigers with his arm. So the Highlands coaching staff did a better job of adjusting and had Towles win the game with his legs. Towles rushed for 172 yards on 19 carries and four rushing touchdowns. Streeter also rushed for 103 yards while Jake True chipped in with 75 yards rushing. Neither team scored until three minutes into the second quarter when Towles ran one in for the 8-yard line. Trailing 7-0, Withrow attempted an on-sides-kick to open the third quarter, but Highlands recovered it and had a short field to work with as a result. Three plays later, Towles scored on the ground again with another 8-yard touchdown run to take a 14-0 lead and the Birds never looked back. Withrow quarterback Blake Moore did throw four touchdowns in a losing effort for the Tigers.
GAME #5 - HIGHLANDS 55, BOONE COUNTY 0: The Birds traveled to Florence and completely dismantled the Boone County Rebels. Highlands, who outgained Boone 448-106, were able to have the state's running-clock mercy-rule put in effect starting in the third quarter. Compton scored on the first drive and Towles rushed for the next two scores as the Bluebirds had a 21-0 first quarter lead. It seems like a new star emerges each week for this very deep Highlands team and this week that player was sophomore running back Colin Seidl. The younger brother of defensive back Ty Seidl, Colin accounted for three rushing touchdowns and a fourth through the air. The younger Seidl carried the ball eight times for a team-leading 66 yards and had two receptions for 50 yards.
GAME #6 - HIGHLANDS 46, LOUISVILLE EASTERN 0: Highlands earned its second consecutive road game shutout by traveling to Louisville and beating the Eastern Eagles 46-0. The Bluebirds offense got off to sluggish start as it could muster a Weinel 27-yard field goal in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Towles threw a 67-yard touchdown pass the Daniel Gold. After Towles ran in the two-point conversion, the Birds had an 11-0 lead. True scored on a 3-yard touchdown run that was followed by Streeter's 8-yard rushing score to give Highlands a 25-0 halftime lead. Streeter scored a second touchdown on the ground in the closing seconds of the third quarter as the Bluebirds extended its lead to 32-0. Early in the fourth quarter, Bruns returned an interception 51 yards to the end zone for his second pick-six of the season. Colin Seidl scored on a 1-yard plunge to give Highlands the final margin of victory. Towles threw for 267 yards on 8-for-17 passing. The Birds defense gave up just 174 yards of total offense and forced three interceptions as Highlands improved its record to 6-0 going into district play.
GAME #7 - HIGHLANDS 42, DIXIE 14: Highlands' first district game of the season was a matchup of two of the most highly touted quarterbacks in Northern Kentucky, Towles for the Birds and Zeke Pike for Dixie. The FOX19 Friday Prep Rally made its way to Dixie Heights for the matchup. With a 7-0 lead, Towles threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Gold to make the score 14-0. Pike engineered a 12-play drive that culminated with 16-yard touchdown run back Seth Bruns. However, Pike made a costly mistake by throwing an interception the Ty Seidl returned 55 yards for a Highlands touchdown. Pike settled down and connected with Goose Cohorn for a 33-yard scoring play to cut the Bluebirds lead to 21-14. On the ensuing kickoff, Gold raced 88 yards to the end zone to demoralized Dixie and swung the momentum away from the Colonels as Highlands took a 28-14 into the locker room at halftime. The Birds defense took over in the second half shutting out Dixie while the offense scored two more touchdowns, a 25-yard run by Towles and a 63-yard reception by Gold. Highlands gained 339 yards of total offense and Gold notched 215 all-purpose yards while scoring a total of three touchdowns.
GAME #8 - HIGHLANDS 27, COV CATH 20: Highlands hosted the last Northern Kentucky team to earn a victory against them, the Covington Catholic Colonels. Coming off a bye-week, the Birds scored on the game's first play from scrimmage, a screen pass that Compton turned into an 80-yard touchdown. Towles scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to give Highlands a 13-0 lead (extra point kick failed) with just over three minutes left in the opening quarter. Highlands lead 20-3 at halftime, after Compton scored on a short rushing touchdown and a Colonels' field goal in the second quarter. Cov Cath got a burst of energy coming out of the locker room when Paul Ritter returned the opening kickoff of the second half 99 yards for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 20-10. Highlands answered on the ensuing possession when Austin Sheehan, who led the team with five receptions, caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Towles to extend the lead to 27-10. Cov Cath was not ready to concede the victory as the Colonels scored 10 unanswered points on a second Evan Talkers field goal and an Alex Connelly 4-yard scoring catch from quarterback Blake Bir to make the score 27-20 with 4:32 left in the game. The Colonels had the ball and was driving down the field with a chance to at least tie the score when Bir threw his third interception of the game, this one to Ben Lofland to seal the win for Highlands. Towles was a very efficient 10-for-13 passing with 185 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
GAME #9 - HIGHLANDS 33, SCOTT 7: Highlands concluded district play with a blowout win over the Scott Eagles. The game was close early as Scott hung in there, trailing 7-6 in the second quarter. The Bluebirds seem to have a different player step-up each game and this week the hero was Streeter. The senior running back carried the ball 15 times for 105 yards and scored four of the five Highlands touchdowns. Towles, who struggled for his standards, completed just 11 pass out of 27 attempts and threw two interceptions. Sheehan (5) and Gall (4) combined for nine of the 11 receptions on the game. The Bluebirds defense held the Scott offense to just 133 yards. The win improved Highlands' record to 9-0 on the season and was the team's 37th consecutive victory.
GAME #10 - RYLE 28, HIGHLANDS 26: The Ryle Raiders pulled off what many people think was the biggest upset of the year when it beat Highlands in a rematch from earlier in the season. The special Thursday night game was broadcasted on regional television and the viewers were treated to a great game. Highlands struck first when Gold returned the game's opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Highlands opted to go for a two-point conversion but Ryle was able to make the stop, holding the Birds to a 6-0 lead. Ryle's strategy was a power-running game that would consume the clock and that is exactly what happened on its opening drive. Using nearly five minutes of game time, the Raiders scored on a two-yard run by running back Travis Elliott. After the extra point, Ryle to a 7-6 lead. Highland re-took the lead in the second quarter when quarterback Patrick Towles hit pay dirt with a seven-yard touchdown run. The Birds decided to chase after the points lost on the previously failed conversion by attempting another two-point conversion, but once again failed to convert and the score was 12-7 in favor of Highlands. Just before halftime, Ryle took the lead once again 14-12 when quarterback Connor Hempel scored on a one-yard keeper. Hempel scored on a pair of rushing plays in the second half, one from 30 yards in the third quarter and a 31-yarder in the fourth quarter to extend the Raiders' lead to 28-12 with 11:29 left in the game. Highlands went on a ferocious comeback in the final quarter starting when Compton scored on a four-yard touchdown run and Towles converted the two-pointer to close the gap to 28-20. That was followed by a 40-yard touchdown pass by Towles to Eli Schultz and the score was 28-26 with 5:24 left in the game. Highlands went for the two-play conversion in order to tie the game. For the third time in four attempts, the Ryle defense stopped Towles short of the end zone to preserve the two-point lead. Ryle ran out the clock to preserve the 28-26 upset victory and snapped Highlands' 37-game winning streak. The Birds had not lost since September 5, 2008 when they were defeated at Colerain 33-18. Highlands had not lost to a Northern Kentucky school since 2006 when Covington Catholic won 29-27 in the second round of the playoffs.
GAME #11 - HIGHLANDS 70, WOODFORD COUNTY 0: The Bluebirds showed no ill-effect from the loss to Ryle in the first round of the playoffs as the crushed Woodford County 70-0. The Highlands defense was stellar, giving up just 123 yards including just 21 on the ground. The defense forced four interceptions including three that were returned for touchdowns. The Birds had a 14-0 lead before the offense ever took the field as New and Bruns each had pick-six interceptions in the first quarter. True rushed for a pair of touchdowns to Highlands a 28-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Highlands scored three second quarter touchdowns to put the running clock into effect just before halftime. Towles was a perfect on his four pass attempts going for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Backup quarterback Donovan McCoy came into the game and went three-for-six passing, including a 28-yard touchdown pass to Beau McGhee. Austin Bowling returned an interception 50 yards to the end zone to give the secondary a pick-six hat-trick.
GAME #12 - HIGHLANDS 42, DIXIE 28: Highlands hosted Dixie Heights in the second-round playoff game in a matchup of district opponents. The Colonels appeared to have made the correct adjustments from the regular season game as it led 21-14 at halftime. Dixie quarterback Zeke Pike, who threw for 272 yards on 20-for-32 passing, accounted for all three first half touchdowns. Pike ran for the first score and connected twice through the air from 71 and six yards with wide receiver Bobby Leonard. After the intermission, it was Highlands who made the proper adjustments and overcame its only halftime deficit of the season to this point. The Bluebirds defense forced four second half turnovers, two fumbles and two interceptions. In the third quarter, Towles scored his second rushing touchdown to tie the score at 21-21. On the ensuing drive by Dixie, the Colonels fumbled and the Birds capitalized on the miscue. True scored on a rushing touchdown for nine yards out and Highlands took the lead 28-21. In the fourth quarter, McCoy came into the game and rushed for a game high 108 yards on just eight carries including a 29-yard score that extended the Highlands lead to 35-21. Pike narrowed the margin to 35-21 with a one-yard sneak. True iced the game for Highlands with his second rushing touchdown to give Highlands the 42-28 victory. Gold, who caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter led Highlands with 79-yards receiving and Sheehan had a team-high four receptions. Leonard caught 11 passes for 174 yards and a pair of scores in the losing effort as Dixie accounted for 357 yards of total offense versus Highlands' 385.
GAME #13 - HIGHLANDS 21, JOHNSON CENTRAL 14: Highlands traveled all the way to Paintsville for the regional championship game versus Johnson Central. The Golden Eagles' strategy was to run the ball and keep the Birds offense off the field. The previous week it worked versus Covington Catholic as running back J.J. Jude, who rushed for over 3,000 yards on the season, ran for an incredible 465 yards and five touchdowns. Highlands did score on its first possession as quarterback Patrick Towles made it to the house on a 17-yard rushing play as the Birds took an early 7-0 lead. In the closing seconds of the first half, Towles threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Austin Sheehan, extending the lead to 14-0 going into the intermission. Early in the third quarter Johnson Central benefited from a rare Highlands mistake. Jordan Streeter fumbled and Golden Eagles' defensive back J.K. Hall picked it up and raced 55 yards into the end zone to cut the Highlands lead in half 14-7. Jude, who the Highlands' defense held in check with just 95 yards rushing on 28 carries, scored from five yards out to tie the score 14-14 with 11:20 left in the game. Highlands scored to regain the lead 21-14 on the next possession with a five yard keeper by Towles that was set-up by a pair of Gold receptions of 41 and 16 yards. The Golden Eagles had the ball last and drove into the red zone with just over a minute to play. Johnson Central had it first-down on the 15-yard line and decided to abandon the running game. Jude, who rushed for a state-record 584 yards on October 15 versus Woodford County, didn't get a touch on the final series of downs. On second-and-10 from the 15-yard line, Bishop broke up a Hall pass in the end zone to force third down. On third-and-10, Hall's pass was dropped by Ross Sanor in the end zone. Then on fourth-and-10 with just nine seconds remaining, Highlands' defender Ty Seidl knocked the ball out of tight end Cody Parker's hands and the Birds survived with a 21-14 road playoff victory to advance to the state semi-finals game.
GAME #14 - HIGHLANDS 34, HARLAN COUNTY 6: For the second consecutive week, the Highlands Bluebirds went on the road and this week and traveled even deeper into the Eastern Kentucky mountains in search of an appearance in the 5A state championship game. The Harlan County Black Bears was the opposition standing in the way of the Birds fourth straight championship game. On the third play from scrimmage Highlands benefited from a turnover as Billy Huddleston recovered a fumble and ran it in from 25 yards for the early 7-0 lead. Gold caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Towles, on the Birds' first offensive possession to extend the lead to 14-0. Harlan County got on the board in the second quarter when Marcus McMillan scored on a 76-yard rushing touchdown. The two-point conversion failed and the score remained 14-6. That was the score at halftime, but it was as close as the Black Bears would get as Highlands score 20 unanswered points in the second half. Gold, who caught eight passes for 150 yards, scored his second touchdown in the third quarter 31-yard connection with Towles. Towles, who passed for 270 yards and three touchdowns, threw a 63-yard scoring pass to Sheehan in the fourth quarter. True finished the scoring with a three-yard run as the Highlands' offense only outgained Harlan County 323-300.
GAME #15 - HIGHLANDS 50, CHRISTIAN COUNTY 0 Highlands completely demolished Christian County 50-0 to win its 20th state championship. Q Towles scored a state finals record five rushing touchdowns, all in the first half, on his way to 165 yards rushing on 20 carriers. The Highlands' defense forced a whooping six turnovers including four interceptions. Huddleston led the defense with 4.5 tackles and a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown. Ty Seidl had a pair of interceptions and New laid claim to the team's fourth interception while Bishop and Gall each recovered fumbles. CCompton carried the ball 16 times for 97 yards and a third quarter touchdown. Gold caught two of the four passes completed in the game for Highlands. The championship was the program's fourth consecutive and head coach Dale Mueller became the first coach in the state to win nine titles.
MILESTONES AND MORE --The Highlands program continues to be tied with Louisville Trinity for most state championship (20).
--Patrick Towles led the offense in both passing and rushing. The junior signal-caller was 122-239 passing for 2,471 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He carried the ball 153 times for 880 yards and 18 touchdowns.
--Daniel Gold led the team in receiving with 39 receptions for 881 yards and 9 touchdowns.
--Drake Bruns was tied (with Carter New) for the team led with five interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns.
--Ethan Bishop had a team leading four fumble recoveries.
--The Highlands' defense held opponents to 13.6 points and 110 yard rushing per game while forcing 38 turnovers (23 interceptions and 15 fumbles) and scoring 10 defensive touchdowns.