FORT THOMAS — A clash of defending state football champions didn't turn out to be much of a game as Highlands leveled Lexington Catholic 41-0 Friday night.
Highlands, undefeated 5A titlist last season, built a 28-0 halftime lead on the Knights, who were 4A champs last fall.
If it was any consolation for Lexington Catholic, it put up a better fight than most of Highlands' opponents this year. The Bluebirds averaged 60 points in their previous five wins, including a 61-0 rout of archrival Covington Catholic.
Highlands Coach Dale Mueller couldn't have been happier after his team out-gained the Knights 430 yards to 216, and his defense pitched a shutout.
"Lexington Catholic always has great offensive teams that can hurt you in so many ways, so to shut them out says a lot for our defense," Mueller said.
At least two Highlands players got a chance to settle a family score Friday night.
Quarterback Tony Guidugli and linebacker Brandon Roller had older brothers on the Highlands team that lost to Lexington Catholic 17-0 in the 2005 region finals. The Knights went on to win the state championship.
"They knocked my brother Ben's team out of the playoffs, and he's still mad about that," Tony Guidugli said. "He told me to get 'em back."
Brandon Roller's brother Andrew had the same message for him.
"This was a little family payback," Brandon said.
Guidugli threw for 95 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 67 yards and a TD.
Clint Crawford ran 15 times for 139 yards for the Bluebirds, and Oliver Head carried 14 times for 93 yards and three scores.
Nick Buten caught a 41-yard TD pass, and also had an interception on defense.
Highlands star halfback Josh Conner got his first TD of the season after missing the first six games recovering from a broken leg.
"We've played great football without Josh, who we expected to have a chance at being Kentucky's Mr. Football," Mueller said. "It's nice to have him back."
Highlands' defense, led by Roller, Head and Michael Laber, helped put Lexington Catholic away in the second quarter. It forced a couple of turnovers and had a big fourth-down stop to help pad an 8-0 lead into a 28-0 halftime cushion.
Lexington Catholic took the second-half kickoff and drove 74 yards in 15 plays, but it came up inches shy of the goal line on fourth down.
"That was a great goal-line stand for our guys," Mueller said.
For the Knights, it was a lost opportunity.
"We moved the ball well but we didn't finish," Coach Bill Letton said. "If we score there, it certainly would have been more respectable in the end."
Lexington Catholic's offense was led by quarterback Nic Ward, who threw for 104 yards and ran for 68.
Letton was pleased with the determination his team showed in the second half.
"I'm glad to see the kids get to a championship-level effort," he said. "It took us 71/2 games, but that was the most competitive we've been this year as far as really laying it on the line and competing.
"I've seen great improvement and maturity in our team the last several weeks, If we continue to grow and mature, I think we'll be a factor in 4A."
Lexington Catholic 0 0 0 0— 0
Highlands 8 20 0 13—41
H—Josh Conner 7 run (Tony Guidugli run). H—Guidugli 5 run (Oliver Head kick). H—Head 6 run (Head kick). H—Nick Buten 41 pass from (kick failed). H—Head 7 run (kick blocked). H—Head 10 run (Head kick).
Records—Lexington Catholic 4-4; Highlands 7-1.