FORT THOMAS —
Ashland’s football season began in August in northern Campbell County.
It ended there Friday.
Six-time Class 4A state champion Highlands overwhelmed the Tomcats, 56-6, in a second-round running-clock game at David Cecil Memorial Stadium behind senior quarterback Drew Houliston’s 238 passing yards and five touchdown passes.
Ashland finished at 8-4 in Tony Love’s first season. For Ashland’s seniors, last night was the end of high school football — and time to savor memories despite the tears smearing the eye black.
For quarterback Tyler Rose, there was the the 42-20 win over Ironton on Sept. 20 — he couldn't help but remember his mother, the late Jessica Broughton, who passed away in 2006 when Tyler was 11. He also praised his grandfather, Mike Broughton.
“It was her birthday,” Rose said. “... (Mr. Broughton) raised me to be the man I am.”
Rose didn’t play last year and didn’t consider playing this season until Love talked to him about it last spring.
“Tyler came to me, and he asked about coming out for football,” Love said. “I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got more important things to do than hold a grudge against a kid. If you think you can help us, the door’s open, come on.’”
Senior center Andrew Burgess played through lots of pain. He partially tore his medial collateral ligament in his right knee against Sheldon Clark.
“I just love my team, I loved just being a part of it,” Burgess said. “... I hate it that it’s over now.”
There was this from senior lineman Chris Kitchen: “It was a great season … We fought hard to get here, we didn’t give up, and we stayed together at all times.”
Ashland was playing somewhat shorthanded before it left Boyd County. Leading rusher Quinton Baker injured his ankle against Holmes last week, but he stayed home with the flu.
It didn’t make any difference.
Not when Highlands held Ashland and opened its scoring when Houliston found Alex Veneman for an 18-yard score less than three minutes in.
Not after Houliston-to-Justin Weyer from 11 yards away, or after Matt Gall recovered Hunter Prince's fumble, which Houliston converted into 21-0 when he found Jensen Feggins for 23 yards and connected with Veneman again from 25 out.
And finally, not after Houliston-to-Mitchell Cain for a 13-yard TD a little more than five minutes into the second quarter.
“I’d break free to look for any receiver,” Ashland senior linebacker Jacob Gilbert said. “(Houliston) just found the seams. He executed very well.”
The Highlands defense was stingy — it held Ashland to 38 total yards.
Veneman led nine Bluebird receivers with four catches for 84 yards. James Queen led Ashland with five catches for 38.
Highlands (11-1) coach Dale Mueller has seen some pretty good quarterbacks: former Cincinnati starter Gino Guidugli; former Kentucky Wildcat and New York Giant Jared Lorenzen; and current UK quarterback Patrick Towles. So what about Houliston — Mueller's current “all-time favorite quarterback?”
“He is just brilliant,” Mueller said. “He makes such great decisions. He is a total joy to coach.”
Highlands’ Beau Hoge’s run made it 42-0 Bluebirds when he scored from 12 yards out midway through the second quarter, and Griffin Urlage took one of three Tomcat fumbles 20 yards for another touchdown.
Ashland’s only score was Tyler Sutton’s 7-yard run early in the fourth quarter, and Highlands ended the scoring on Austin Hergott’s 9-yard pass to James Grau.
Love hoped Friday doesn’t overshadow what the Tomcats achieved through injury and illness.
“It’s a testament to our kids that they have just continued week after week after week to step up and continue to play hard and win,” Love said. “Sometimes that last loss clouds what your team has achieved, and these guys have achieved a lot.”