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Un – freakin’ – believable!
That’s probably the best way to sum up the Collins football team’s dramatic, 37-34 victory over Fort Thomas Highlands in Saturday’s Class AAAA state final. It’s a victory that already is being called one of the biggest upsets in the history of KHSAA state championships (although I wouldn’t go quite that far).
Even though the 22-time champion Bluebirds came into Western Kentucky University’s L.T. Smith Stadium having won six consecutive state titles and sporting a 45-game winning streak against in-state competition, and the Titans entered with 45 victories in the 4-year history of their program, this wasn’t David over Goliath.
Despite the incredible, 50-point turnaround from last year’s final, which Highlands won, 47-0, neither was this North Carolina State over Houston in NCAA basketball (although the postgame chaos reminded at least one person of that game).
This was more Connecticut over Duke in the 1999 men’s NCAA basketball tournament, the upstart program over the perennial power.
The Bluebirds and Titans were ranked, No. 1 and No. 5, respectively, in the final Associated Press poll of the regular season. They came in with similar records (Highlands 13-1, Collins 12-2) and statistics (the Bluebirds averaging 52 points and 442 yards of total offense per game, the Titans 42 and 396).
What made this game special – for the record it’s probably the second-best game I’ve ever seen in person, ranking only behind the epic Male-Trinity game in the 2002 4A final – and what will make it unforgettable for those who witnessed it were the momentum swings, lead changes – topped off by the final touchdown – and the overall emotion at the end.
Trailing, 34-30, with 2 minutes, 33 seconds to play, Collins senior quarterback Lawson Page, as he has done so many times in his career, drove the Titans down the field. This time, though, he didn’t make the game-winning touchdown pass. In fact he wasn’t even on the field for Collins’ final play.
That’s because his helmet had come off at the end of the previous play, on which he was dropped for a 5-yard loss, leaving the Titans with fourth-and-8 from the Bluebirds’ 12 with 13 seconds to play.
That’s when Collins Coach Jerry Lucas turned to backup quarterback Browning Becherer, literally, during a timeout.
“I turned around, and there he was,” Lucas said.
And although most would’ve been bug-eyed in that situation, Becherer was not, according to Lucas, who said he had “literally three seconds” to give the junior the play.
“He acted like it’s seven-on-seven in June,” Lucas said. “He was as calm and cool as he could be.”
So much so, in fact, that after he stepped onto the field, Becherer, Page’s cousin and the grandson of Collins Defensive Coordinator Tom Becherer, who guided Shelby County to the 1987 Class 4A state title, turned back to Lucas.
“He said, ‘Coach, you want a three-step drop?’” Lucas recalled. “And I said, ‘Yeah, ‘Three-step drop.’”
Becherer went out without warming up, received a Shotgun snap, took that 3-step drop, then delivered a strike to senior Nathan Sames for the game-winning touchdown with 7 seconds to play, sending the Collins’ sideline into a frenzy.
“What I’ll remember most is the rush of emotion,” Lucas said. “We go down for the huddle [before the ensuing kickoff], and it seemed like every one of them was sobbing.
“[Senior] Dre [Farris] had tears coming down his face. I said, ‘Dre, one last time.’”
Moments later, Highlands’ “Hail Mary” went unanswered, and Collins’ celebration began.
“You didn’t know what to do, you didn’t know who to hug,” Lucas said, referencing N.C. State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano famous victory run-around-looking-for-someone-to-hug jubilation after the Wolfpack shocked Houston in that 1983 NCAA final. “That’s what the whole thing looked like.”
The Titans then took turns touching, holding, kissing and caressing the gold state championship trophy on the 77th birthday of – wait for it – Shelby County native, former Kentucky governor and school namesake Martha Layne Collins.
Hollywood couldn’t have come up with a better script.
“If you made a movie about this, nobody would buy it,” Lucas said. “Unbelievable.”
No, it was un – freaking – believable.