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LOUISVILLE – The Collins and Western football teams traded touchdowns like punches Friday night in the first half of the Class 4A, Region 2 championship game.
In the second half, though, the Titans’ defense was the difference, and Collins collected its second consecutive region title with a 36-20 victory over the host Warriors.
The Titans, who led at halftime, 21-20, outgained the Warriors, 177-99, on offense and outscored them, 15-0, in the second half.
“I thought the defense really stepped up in the second half,” said Collins Coach Jerry Lucas, whose team will host undefeated Warren East (13-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals. “I didn’t think they did anything different. Our kids just stepped up and made plays.”
“We didn’t flinch,” said junior quarterback Lawson Page, whose team overcame one fumble in scoring territory in the first half and weathered Western’s returning a kickoff for a touchdown 6 seconds before halftime.
Page passed for 127 yards, one touchdown and one 2-point conversion (both to Nathan Sames) and ran for 70 yards, and juniors Dre Farris and Masai Whyte rushed for two touchdowns apiece as the Titans (10-3) won for the eighth time in their last nine games.
Farris finished with 15 carries for 107 yards (7.1 yards per rush) and had second-half TD runs of 9 and 3 yards. Meanwhile Whyte registered six carries for 30 yards and a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs in the first half.
Sames finished with five catches – including a key third-down reception in the third quarter – for 79 yards and also had a fumble recovery on defense.
“The kids hung in there,” Lucas said. “Several kids made some big plays for us. It was a great team win.”
The Titans won the region title last year with a 13-12 victory over Western after the Warriors had beaten them, 31-26, for the same trophy two years ago. The rubber match had all the earmarks of another down-to-the-wire game, especially in the first half.
Back and forth
Western (6-7) took the opening kickoff and marched down the field and scored. Chiguan McCaulie’s 1-yard plunge completed a 9-play (all runs), 58-yard drive. The PAT failed, leaving the score at 6-0.
Collins, which fell behind the Warriors 21-0 in 2010 and 6-0 last year, immediately responded with a 12-play, 57-yard drive. The biggest play was a fourth-down pass from Page to Farris that helped set up Whyte’s 1-yard TD dive. Blanton Creque’s extra-point kick put Collins ahead, 7-6.
The Titans stopped Western on its second possession then drove down the field and added to their lead when Whyte scored again from 1 yard out to finish a 13-play, 63-yard drive. Creque’s kick made it 14-6.
The Warriors wasted little time – 56 seconds to be exact – in answering. After a good kickoff return, Doreon Gordon ran twice for 25 yards before Cory Durham broke free for a 40-yard TD run. PAT holder Jordan Cooper, who also quarterbacked Western, ran in for a 2-point conversion, after a bad snap by the center, to tie the score at 14.
The Titans looked like they were going to retake the lead on their next possession, driving deep into Warriors territory, but a fumble on the center-quarterback exchange gave the ball back to Western at its 10.
Collins’ defense, though, forced a punt, and a less-than-stellar kick gave the Titans the ball at Western’s 49 with 2:31 to play in the half. They needed only five plays to score.
The first two were runs by Page and the next two were runs (including a 27-yarder) by Farris to set up Sames’ 10-yard TD catch near the front pylon with 22 seconds to play in the half.
That turned out to be too much time for the Warriors.
Dion Sutton returned Creque’s ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a TD. The PAT failed, but Western had cut Collins’ lead to 21-20 just before halftime.
Play of the season?
The two teams traded punts to start the second half before Page and Sames connected on one of the biggest plays of the game – and the season, for that matter.
Facing a third-and-17 from the Warriors’ 30, Page lofted a pass down the left sideline (Western’s side of the field) that Sames hauled in with an over-the-shoulder diving catch.
“The cornerback came up to the line to cover him, and he [Sames] looked at me and said, ‘I’ve got him,’” Page said. “He made a great play.”
Seven plays later Farris bulled his way in for a 9-yard touchdown with 5:17 left in the third quarter.
“Dre Farris, of all the athletes on the field, I thought he was the best athlete on the field,” Lucas said.
Lucas then decided to try to push the margin to two possessions by going for two points on the conversion, and Page found Sames for the score.
After that, defense
That’s when the Titans’ defense took over.
Playing its “41” defense, with four down linemen and two linebackers pushing up on the outside, Collins held the Warriors to one first down on each of their next three possessions.
“Our defense adjusted to their offense, the linebackers started reacting to the ball quicker,” Whyte said.
After their defense’s fourth consecutive stop of the second half, the Titans put away the game with a 4-play, 48-yard drive late in the fourth quarter.
“After halftime the defense got some stops and got our offense going,” Page said.
Farris’ 3-yard TD run capped that quick drive against Western’s wilting defense with 3:35 to play.
“I thought that was the difference. We just started pounding them on that side of the ball,” Lucas said. “You look at our offensive line and defensive line, in spite of the size difference, for them to play the way they did [was great].”
Collins outgained Western, 381-241, in total offense as the Titans rushed 44 times for 254 yards, and Page completed 11 of 24 passes.
Western rushed 11 times for 43 yards in the second half, after gaining 142 yards on 24 carries in the first 24 minutes. Meanwhile Cooper completed just 5 of 16 throws for 56 yards with one interception, by Farris, which sealed the victory.
“Defense won the game, by far,” Farris said. “We played great defense in the second half.”
The Titans, who lost to Franklin-Simpson, 20-15, in last year’s state semifinals, will try to carry that over into Friday night’s game against Warren East.
The Raiders earned their spot in the semis by beating Owensboro, 14-7, in the Region 1 championship game.
Thanksgiving breakfast with Titans
Collins will have an open-to-the-public practice, called the Titan Thanksgiving Football Final Four Pigskin Practice, from 9-10 a.m. Thursday at Titans Stadium. It will be Collins’ regular walk-through for its game the next night against Warren East. There will be beverages and doughnuts for those in attendance.
“It is a really big deal in football to have the opportunity to practice on Thanksgiving and play in the final four of the state championship,” Lucas said. “We would like to invite all of our Titan family, and their families, and all of our community out to help celebrate with our kids the success we've enjoyed on the field this season.”