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September 26, 2009
Bluebirds Upset Bombers
As the Highlands players huddled up, jumping up and down cheering and celebrating their historic win, the player who got them their lone touchdown stood on the outside looking in.
The Bluebirds' quarterback, Will Bardo, stood there looking on with his throwing arm in a sling, the result of a late hit out of bounds during the fourth quarter of the game.
"We just wanted to win so bad," an emotional Bardo said. "Some polls had them ranked No. 2 in the nation. It just shows where we rank."
The Bluebirds' signal-caller was a big reason for the surprising victory.
Bardo rushed for 135 yards on 16 carries and scored the team's lone touchdown, while missing the majority of the fourth quarter.
"It was just hard for me to not be in there when the team was winning the game and bringing it home."
The touchdown, a four-yard run, came as a relief to the Bluebirds who had spoiled three previous goal-line opportunities during the game.
"Really we had opportunity after opportunity that we didn't take advantage of," Highlands' Coach Dale Mueller said. "You have to give (St. Xavier) a lot of credit. They're a great football team."
As it turned out, the Bluebirds only needed to take advantage of that one opportunity as their defense, led by Brandon Roller's 11 tackles and interception, held Cincinnati commit Luke Massa and his offense in check all night.
The Bombers hurt themselves on their first possession when their long snap sailed over punter Chris Gradone's head and into the endzone. Gradone was able to fall on it, but it gave the Bluebirds a 2-0 lead.
St. Xavier escaped further damage when Nick Weston intercepted Austin Collinsworth's halfback pass attempt on the ensuing drive in the endzone. However, Highlands got the ball right back when Luke Massa's pass was tipped and Highlands' linebacker Brandon Roller intercepted it.
The Bluebirds marched down inside the 5-yard line, but the Bombers' defense held up on 4th and 2 forcing another turnover.
Both offenses were quiet until the end of the first half when Highlands threatened again. Bardo found wide receiver Daniel Gold for a 28-yard reception to get the Bluebirds down to the Bombers' 6-yard line with just under a minute left in the half. Highlands then tried three straight rushing plays, and on the third the ball was knocked out of Austin Collinsworth's hands by St. Xavier's Nigel Muhammad and the Bombers recovered keeping the Bluebirds lead at 2-0 heading into halftime.
The Bombers started the second half strong on offense making their first venture into Highlands' territory, but when the drive stalled out at the Bluebirds 15 kicker Robert Leonard was unable to capitalize on St. Xavier's first real drive of the game as he missed the field goal wide.
The two defenses continued to keep each other's offenses at bay as both teams ran the ball consistently shortening the game, until Bardo's touchdown with 22 seconds left. The touchdown was set up by Bardo's own 66-yard run.
Bardo got the Bluebirds' offense into scoring position again in the fourth quarter when he reeled off a 17-yard run to the Bombers' 6-yard line, but it came at a price as the hit Bardo took out of bounds kept him out the rest of the game with what he's calling a, "hyper-extended elbow." The Bluebirds had another goal-line blunder though as Collinsworth had the ball stripped from him again, this time by Nathan Gerbus.
Highlands' kicker Adam Weinel added the Bluebirds' final points as he made a 22-yarder with 5:59 to play in the game.
The Bombers did score in the fourth quarter, but the stingy Highlands' defense made them use most of the time on the clock. Luke Massa connected with wide receiver Jeff Kraemer to make it 12-7, but the ensuing onside-kick went out of bounds.
"It's a big win," Mueller said. "We always say we want to be ranked nationally. I'd have to go with now Maybe we should be."