FORT THOMAS —
For a quarter and a half Friday, Ashland's football team maybe dreamed the impossible.
Tomcats 13, perennial Class 4A power Highlands, 8, with 6:21 left in the second quarter of the second round playoff game.
Then reality, with all the force of a blizzard with 40 mph winds.
Bluebirds 52, Ashland 13, on 44 unanswered points.
Ashland coach Leon Hart said Highlands' depth ultimately wore out his team, starting with late in the second.
“Depth started taking its toll on us, and our kids were playing every snap to that point, and their kids were playing half as many snaps,” Hart said. “We came out and played like heck with them, just played (our) butts off.
“We thought we could run the ball against them, and we were able to do that effectively early. We ran out of gas, I guess.”
Ashland senior Evan Yongue finished his high school career with a flourish — 19 carries for 160 yards, including a 66-yard score. So did senior Logan Salow — two interceptions in the end zone.
You would be correct if you thought Highlands senior quarterback Donovan McCoy was largely responsible for what happened. He threw for 231 yards and ran for another 117.
So which did McCoy prefer, running or passing?
“Winning,” he said.
If you didn't know Highlands is a state power, you need only look above the main gate — 21 state titles, including the last five.
Ashland paid no attention.
First, the Tomcats stopped the Bluebirds to open the game, despite senior quarterback McCoy's two passes for 37 yards.
In years past, Highlands befuddled opponents with inside traps to the halfbacks, which often resulted in touchdowns. It was Ashland, however, that provided the confusion.
Starting with Yongue: three carries for 36 yards. Then Aaron Elam's touchdown: a fake to Slater Swift over left guard, while Elam cruised untouched for 10 yards over right guard.
“It was trap plays,” Yongue said. “We got a lot of trap plays; our line was blocking great for us.”
Hart said it was a matter of trying things Highlands hadn't seen before, while the Bluebirds shifted when Ashland sent someone in motion. “We went against a lot of tendencies that we had,” he said. “... They're attacking the line of scrimmage, and if you can pop a trap, you have a heck of a chance to get out of there with it.”
It took Highlands (11-1) just three plays to take its first lead: passes to David Christian and Jaylen Hayes, and then Harris again from seven yards out.
McCoy was even responsible for Highlands' only mistakes on offense — Salow's two pickoffs in the end zone when he threw into double coverage both times and his fumble after a 20-yard run — ended the Bluebirds' next three drives.
“I was sitting back there, and I just kept dropping back and dropping back,” Salow said. “I got lucky a few times; (McCoy) got a little greedy and tried to throw it up top.”
Highlands coach Dale Mueller wasn't worried.
“We were playing good football … we were just turning it over on offense,” Mueller said.
No deception was necessary for what turned out to be Ashland's (9-3) final score. Yongue ran over right guard for his long touchdown.
Then came the scoring storm, mostly because of McCoy.
First, McCoy's three-yard score, which he set up with two carries for 47 yards and a 15-yard pass to Colin Seidl. Then: McCoy-to-Zach Harris from nine yards; Harris from a yard away after McCoy's 24-yard run; Seidl's run from eight yards away thanks to McCoy-to-Luke Turner; Jaylen Hayes for three yards; and James Grau's two-yard score after backup quarterback Drew Houliston threw to Alex Veneman for 40 yards.
After the game, Yongue and Salow thought about what they'll remember from this season. For Yongue, it was playing at Putnam Stadium, while Salow said it was playing with teammates he's know since Kindergarten as he tried to fight back tears.
“I've grown up with plenty of these guys,” Salow said. “... There's no words to describe these guys.”