September 3, 2009

Dixie Heights Starts Fast

Through two weeks of high school football in Northern Kentucky there are several storylines developing, but few match the excitement stirred up early on by the Dixie Heights Colonels.

With their first three match-ups against teams that played in state title games at Papa John's Stadium in Louisville last December (NewCath, Beechwood, Simon Kenton) and three of their next four against teams ranked in the top four of the latest QueenCityHigh.com Northern Kentucky Rankings (Conner, Ryle, Highlands), there was little margin for error for the Colonels entering the 2009 campaign.

This isn't a new dilemma as tough schedules early in the year have always presented an obstacle for the school. The difference with this Dixie Heights' team though has been their ability to win those battles.

"Our schedule is difficult, but we can't get caught up in it. We just got to play one week at a time. We just trying to improve as a team in all phases of the game," head coach Tom Spritzky said. "This week was Beechwood, next week it's Simon Kenton."

There aren't a ton of new names playing for Dixie this year, but their play has definitely improved.

"We have what we have. These are the same guys we had last year," Spritzky added. "We kind of went to back to some of the fundamentals that we have gotten away from."

The team looked a bit rusty in the opening game against Newport Central Catholic, but they battled through mistakes and won the game going away, 19-7.

Last week, the Colonels dominated Beechwood in every aspect of the game as they rolled to a 47-7 victory in the Crosstown Showdown match-up from Nippert Stadium.

It marked the first time the team won its first two games on the field in a decade.

In 2004, they started 6-0 but that was only after an eligibility violation caused Highlands to have to forfeit a season-opening match-up. The team finished 9-1 and that season before losing to Boone County in a 10-7 heartbreaker in the third round of the playoffs.

Dixie raced out to a 4-0 in 1999 before losing to Tates Creek in Week 5 of the season.

If their victory over Beechwood is any indication of what to except in '09, then the Colonels are for real. Over the past three years they have gone 0-3 vs. the Tigers being outscored 85 to 32. That's a far cry from the 40-point differential seen in Saturday's contest.

A big key for Dixie has been the maturation of their senior class. After a strong class graduated in 2007, many of the young Colonels got thrown to the wolves a year ago. However, as the season progressed so did their development. That has set up many players for a big senior year.

Dual-threat quarterback Ryan Wilson has already tallied some impressive numbers. He has completed 23 of his 39 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns while adding 202 yards and two more scores on the ground. Wilson has had big runs in both of his games (38 and 58 yards) and is a headache for opposing defensive coordinators.

Classmate Corey Klei has contributed another 176 yards on the ground, including 140 in the team's win over Beechwood.

Fellow seniors Wes Smith (6'4, 261 lbs) , Stephen Zumdick (6'3, 220), and Brett Stansberry (6'3, 195) also have made big impacts early on and offer some nice size to the Dixie's lineup.

"Our goal is 10-0. Then a perfect 5-0 (in the playoffs)," Klei said. "We have big expectations for our senior class. We start 10 seniors on offense and defense. We are a senior-led team. We expect to be perfect."

The Colonels were expected to be a high-powered attack on offense this season, but questions have centered around their defense. To this point the unit has produced. They only ceded a Chris Kelly TD-run in the opening game and nearly shutout the Tigers before giving a touchdown in the game's final minutes.

"Honestly we are just playing assignment football and reading our keys and not giving up any big plays and if we can I think we will be in every game we play," Spritzky said of the unit.

A big test for the team comes this week as they travel to Simon Kenton. The Pioneers are coming off a win over NewCath, but their star running back Miles Simpson is still dealing with an ankle injury. He was limited to just seven carries last week. Expect him to be closer to 100 percent for the Pioneers' home opener.

In 2008, Simpson ran for 346 yards and four touchdowns on just 24 carries against Dixie. If the Colonels are going to move to 3-0 they will need to reverse their fortunes against the highly-touted runner.

Dixie has already gone from eighth to fifth in our rankings and a win over second-ranked Simon Kenton will only continue to help their rise.



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