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BOWLING GREEN – As the final horn sounded the Collins High School football team shrugged off the freezing temperatures Saturday night for a madcap celebration of their 37-34 victory over venerable Fort Thomas Highlands that delivered the school’s first KHSAA Class AAAA State Football Championship.
But just a few seconds before that, this entire celebratory scene hung precariously as the football gods seemingly had turned their backs on these scrappy underdogs from Shelbyville, the game seeming to unravel on one call by the officials.
Trailing, 34-30, the Titans had marched 68 yards in 2 minutes and 16 seconds against the vaunted, 6-time-defending-champion Bluebirds, but a ruling on the field left Collins’ coaches and fans reeling.
With 13 seconds to go, the ball resting at Highlands’ 12-yard line and the Titans facing fourth down and 8 yards to go, starting quarterback Lawson Page was forced to the sideline. This is the same Lawson Page who at halftime was named the 4A player of the year. The same quarterback who had orchestrated a perfect, 2-minute drive, nearly throwing an 80-yard touchdown on an audible call on its first play.
Page’s influence and importance to Collins’ offense can’t be discounted. Titans Coach Jerry Lucas said after the game that he went for a first down on fourth down from Collins’ 44 with about 6:30 to go because, worse case scenario, “we put the ball back in Lawson’s hands for the final drive to win the game.”
And now that undisputed leader, the man who in fact had led a potentially game-winning drive, was headed to the bench because his helmet came off when he was tackled on the previous play.
“We all thought it was OK because we had called a timeout,” Page said, knowing the KHSAA rule that if a player’s helmet comes off he has to sit out the next play.
Lucas said he argued with the officials because a defender ripped off Page’s helmet, which should’ve resulted in a penalty.
“He [the official] came and told me Lawson had to come out because his helmet was ‘ripped off,’” Lucas said. “I said ‘Are you listening to yourself? That should be a penalty, and you’re going to send this kid off in this situation? You’re kidding me?’”
But as all this went on, back-up quarterback Browning Becherer calmly was getting ready. And Page, although he was visibly upset, said later that he wasn’t worried.
“Browning [Becherer] is an awesome quarterback,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about him at all."
And Lucas echoed that statement.
“I looked at him, with just a couple seconds to talk, and said take a three-step drop and hit Nathan [Sames],” Lucas said. “He repeated it back to me, cool as he could be, and just went out there and executed.”
Becherer said it wasn’t anything.
“I was ready,” he said. “I just tried not to think about the situation. I wanted to go out there and play just like Lawson.”
But going into the game Becherer was 1-of-1 passing this season, that being a 44-yard touchdown. That one and only pass? It was thrown on Oct. 18, more than six weeks ago, against a Waggener High School squad that finished 1-10.
“He threw a strike. It was incredible,” Lucas said. “Every time we needed it, we answered the call, and that play was no different.”
Page, who watched the play unfold on the sideline, was the first to great Becherer after the score.
“He’s just unlucky that he came in after me,” he said. “Browning would be a starting quarterback just about anywhere else. I knew he’d make that pass.”
Nathan Sames, who caught that final pass, echoed that confidence.
“I was still confident that we’d score,” he said. “Browning throws to me all the time in practice. I knew he was ready.”
The play, “Kentucky,” was one that Sames said was there all night, but he added a quick wrinkle at the line of scrimmage.
“I told coach [Lucas] that the skinny post was open all night,” he said. “And when we came back out after the coaches were arguing to try to keep Lawson in the game, I saw that the [Highlands’] safety was over the top.
“So I cut underneath right between the safety and corner, and Browning hit me in stride.”
And from there it was pandemonium.
“It unfolded just like Coach Lucas said it would,” Becherer said.
The play likely cemented Becherer as the favorite to be the starter for Collins when it opens the 2014 season, but how does a quarterback follow a season in which he’s 2-for-2 for 56 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the state championship game?
“I have no idea,” Page said, laughing.
Becherer said he wasn’t sure either.
“I just want to get back here,” he said.
And if the Titans do make it back to Bowling Green, you can bet they’ll be ready for anything in the closing seconds.
Celebrate with the Titans
Collins High School will have a community celebration at 2:30 p.m. on Friday in the school’s gymnasium to celebrate all its fall sports state titles. Gabby Karas and Jay Solinger won individual state titles in cross country to go along with the football team’s championship. Former governor and school namesake Martha Layne Collins will be on hand for the celebration, and the school expects several local dignitaries, as well.