A lot can change in 10 years. Unfortunately for Covington Catholic, the one constant over that time has been an inability to defeat archrival Highlands on the gridiron.
Football moved from four to six classes since the Colonels picked up their last win over the Bluebirds in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs on Nov. 11, 2006. Covington Catholic has changed head coaches three times since that season, when it won a state title and went undefeated against in-state competition.
Eddie Eviston is the latest coach faced with ending the decade-long streak. He took over the reins last season after successful stints as a head coach at Newport Central Catholic and an offensive coordinator at Georgetown College. His Thoroughbreds won Class 2A state titles in 2010 and 2015.
Eviston, an NAIA Hall of Famer who quarterbacked Georgetown to two national titles as a player after starring at NewCath, still considers himself somewhat of an outsider when it comes to the rivalry between CovCath and Highlands.
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“I’m still trying to grasp it,” Eviston said. “But it is a big deal and a big rivalry. We fully anticipate whatever records are for either team, it’s gonna be a dogfight.”
Both teams entered their regular-season matchup with 2-5 records in 2015. The Bluebirds prevailed, 14-10, and did so more convincingly a month later in the regional finals, 44-22.
Things appear rosier for CovCath this season. The Colonels are 5-2, the two losses against undefeated Ryle and St. Francis DeSales, an Ohio juggernaut. Eviston’s players took some time getting used to his hybrid offense, and it’s clear they’re responding better to his staff’s instruction in year two than in year one.
“Last year they were trying to grasp it, then trying to go out and play and maybe went a step slow or didn’t fully have confidence in it,” Eviston said. “Now this year they do.”
Junior A.J. Mayer has emerged as one of Class 5A’s top quarterbacks after starting every game as a sophomore. At 1,592 yards and 14 touchdowns through seven games, he could eclipse his 2015 season totals (1,974 yards, 17 TDs) before the 2016 postseason even begins.
Mayer responded well to trial by fire in a new offensive scheme but has made big strides this season, Eviston said.
“He’s understanding what we’re doing and why we’re calling what we’re calling,” Eviston said. “He’s very gifted. He has all the tools you want in a quarterback.”
Hunter Ziegelmeyer is the “No. 1 offensive lineman” protecting Mayer and CovCath’s backfield. The 6-foot-6, 285-pound senior has received offers from Army and Eastern Kentucky and has been offered roster spots by the likes of Columbia and Dartmouth. The latter options would seem like a great fit for a kid interested in chemical engineering.
“I think he knows that’s where his ticket’s going to be,” Eviston said of Ziegelmeyer, who scored a 32 on his ACT and is one of the Colonels’ team captains. “I would not be surprised at all if he’s at an Ivy League (school) next year playing for them.”
While Covington Catholic is off to its best start since 2013, Highlands is off to its worst start since 1939, when the program won its first game then lost eight straight before finishing with a win over Dixie Heights. This year’s Bluebirds have lost six straight and are coming off a loss to Dixie Heights which snapped their 31-game district win streak.
A win over Dixie Heights was the first of eight straight en route to a state semifinals appearance for the Bluebirds last season. CovCath hopes not to be the medicine that re-energizes its rival this season.
“It’s not a hidden secret that Highlands has had our number for the last 10 years,” Eviston said. “What type of team are we? Are we allowing that history to creep into how we play? Our kids have done a good job of concentrating each week on what we focus on and going out and just handling our business. That’s our goal this week.
“Obviously we know what week it is but we’re not hyping it up. We’re going about our business like any other normal week and we’re gonna play whatever team is on our schedule on Friday, no matter who that be.”
▪ While most teams are in the thick of district season, Belfry will host Warrensville Heights, a team out of northeast Ohio, on Friday. That’s because Sheldon Clark, which is in Belfry’s district, removed itself from postseason consideration prior to the season and opted out of its game with the Pirates.
Belfry was lucky to find another team that was scrambling to fill a hole in its schedule late in the game.
“They had the same thing happen to them with a cancellation that was very late in the year,” Pirates Coach Philip Haywood told the Herald-Leader earlier this season. “We started talking toward the end of May and finally got the contracts worked out by the first of the school year.
“I remember talking with their coach and he kind of laughed. He said, ‘It’s not like either one of us has a lot of options, we’ll get this worked out.’ We finally did. They had quite a few home games and could come down here, and we didn’t have many home games so we got it worked out.”
▪ Is Central back on the winning wagon for good? It travels to unbeaten Bardstown this week looking to prove its still “The Man” among Class 3A Louisville-area schools. The Yellowjackets started 0-4 against four powerful foes but have since won three straight.
If a No. 1 seed in district play wasn’t enough motivation, perhaps the Yellowjackets will still be juiced by news from earlier in the week. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown wore a pair of cleats honoring Muhammad Ali last Sunday. Central Athletic Director Ryan Bringhurst mounted a Twitter campaign that caught the attention of Brown, who promised to donate the cleats to Central, Ali’s alma mater.
▪ Did you see Governor Matt Bevin participate in a 40-yard dash during Paintsville’s football practice Wednesday? Bevin, who took one of his signature selfies with the team, was in Johnson County to help announce plans for a workforce development training facility. “#WeNotMe...great words to live by!” said Bevin in a tweet, referencing the Tigers’ team motto.
The last 10 years: Highlands vs. Covington Catholic
2006: CovCath 29-27, CovCath 25-10
2007: HHS 28-14, HHS 40-0
2008: HHS 61-0
2009: HHS 36-7
2010: HHS 27-20
2011: HHS 42-37, HHS 49-14
2012: HHS 35-21, HHS 28-13
2013: HHS 42-6, HHS 28-13
2014: HHS 42-7, HHS 37-34
2015: HHS 14-10, HHS 44-22