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BOWLING GREEN – The Collins football team wanted to turn the Class AAAA final into a shoot-out.
Instead, it got shut out.
Heavyweight Highlands captured its record sixth consecutive state title – and its 22nd overall (which ties for the most in state history) – with a 47-0 takedown of the Titans on Friday night in front of 8,312 fans at Western Kentucky University’s L.T. Smith Stadium.
The Bluebirds, Kentucky’s winningest high school football program, handed Collins its first shutout loss in the brief history of the program in its first appearance in the state final.
“We felt like we needed to try and score with them early, then make it come down to who could make stops late,” Titans Coach Jerry Lucas said.
However Highlands (14-1) scored 13 points in the first quarter and 20 in the second to lead 33-0 at halftime on the way to its second consecutive 4A title (the Bluebirds also won four 5A championships in a row from 2007-2010).
“They’re not eighty-seven and three over the last six years for nothing,” Lucas said. “I can’t say enough about Highlands and the level of excellence they have.”
The Bluebirds, who are 83-1 against Kentucky teams since 2007 (their lone loss was a 28-26 setback to Ryle on Oct. 28, 2010), played without head coach Dale Mueller, who missed the game because of the death of his mother-in-law in New York earlier in the week (Lucas sent him an E-mail expressing his sympathies when he found out Mueller wouldn’t attend the game).
Highlands Defensive Coordinator Brian Weinrich assumed head-coaching duties in Mueller’s absence, and it was his D that made its presence felt. The Bluebirds held Collins (11-4), which entered averaging 40.1 points and 393.3 yards of total offense per game, scoreless and to only 173 yards of offense.
“We knew we had to play disciplined football on defense, and we did,” Weinrich said. “We played very well defensively.”
The Titans, whose previous low point total came in a 13-12 victory over Western in the region final last year, had defeated previously unbeaten Warren East, 58-7, in the state semifinals. In that victory Collins built a 24-0 halftime lead, scored 27 more points in the third quarter and rolled up 469 yards (201 rushing, 268 passing).
Against Highlands, Collins totaled 67 rushing yards on 38 attempts (1.8 yards per run) and 106 passing yards, as junior quarterback Lawson Page completed 12 of 26 passes.
“We couldn’t get our offense going,” said Page, who was sacked seven times.
The Titans, who had eight more offensive snaps (64 to 56) than the Bluebirds, averaged just 2.7 yards per play, compared to Highlands’ 8.5.
“I certainly don’t think we played our best game of the season,” Lucas said. “Some of that was Highlands, and some of that was being on the big stage for the first time.”
The Bluebirds stymied Collins’ high-powered offense by dropping eight defenders in pass coverage and only rushing three most of the night.
“Against everybody else we played this year, when they did that, we just ran the football,” Lucas said. “But we struggled to run the football. If they’re playing coverage and you can’t run the football, you’re going to have some problems.”
Added Page: “They were switching it up on defense. In the past games teams would come out in one defense and just stick with it the entire game. But they’d have one defense, then the next series they’d come out in another defense.”
That confusion was evident in the Titans’ early execution, or lack thereof, and only was confounded by the fact that Collins’ receivers had some uncharacteristic dropped passes.
“We just didn’t execute in the first half,” junior running back Dre Farris said. “When you play a team like that, you have to execute, and you can’t drop balls, because they are going to execute.”
The Bluebirds did, scoring on three of their first four possessions.
Highlands senior running back Colin Seidl, the son of former Shelby County High School standout Steve Seidl, returned Blanton Creque’s opening kickoff 41 yards to his own 43. The Bluebirds quickly moved into Titans’ territory, but after junior defensive end Kris Jones knocked down Donovan McCoy’s third-down pass, they faced a fourth-and-9 from Collins’ 33.
However Highlands went for it on fourth down, and converted, when McCoy connected with Luke Turner for a 13-yard gain.
Two plays later the Bluebirds were in the end zone when McCoy hooked up with Ryan Greene for a 14-yard TD. Even though the point-after-touchdown kick failed, Highlands led, 6-0, 2 minutes, 20 seconds into the game.
After the Bluebirds booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds the Titans took over on their own 35. Page rushed for 15 yards on Collins’ first play from scrimmage, and after Farris was dropped for a 1-yard loss, Page connected with Landon Forrest for an 8-yard gain. Farris gained 2 yards on the next play, leaving the Titans with a fourth-and-1 at Highlands’ 41. Masai Whyte appeared to pick up the first down with an over-the-top dive on the next play, however, the officials’ spot left Collins inches short.
The Titans’ defense held Highlands on its ensuing possession, but Collins then went three-and-out on offense.
The Bluebirds took over at their own 46 and quickly moved downfield. McCoy’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Turner concluded a 6-play drive and made it 13-0.
The Titans took over at their own 33 after the kickoff and drove to their 49 before being pushed back by a holding penalty. Collins still had a chance to convert a third-and-very-long (24) from its own 30, but a dropped pass forced a punt.
“We messed up a lot,” senior offensive lineman Cody Hardin said. “Our big plays we usually make we didn’t make.”
Three plays later Highlands found the end zone again. McCoy’s 38-yard pass to Justin Weyer set up Zach Harris’ 8-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.
Then, “it went downhill,” Page said.
On their first seven possessions of the first half the Titans punted four times and turned the ball over on downs three times. Their eighth possession – after Nathan Sames intercepted a pass by McCoy with less than 30 seconds left in the second quarter – ended with Seth Hope’s sack of Page on the final play of the first half.
Highlands had 353 yards of total offense, compared to Collins’ 101, in the first half. The Bluebirds rolled up 230 rushing yards to the Titans’ 26.
“I thought we fought them on defense in the first half,” Lucas said. “We just didn’t make plays [on offense] that we’d been making all season.
“Then when you get behind, and you’re on that stage, the pressure mounts. Now you are hoping for the best instead of attacking and making plays.”
Collins got the ball to start the second half and drove to the Highlands’ 40. However on second-and-8 Page was sacked, again by Hope, for a 12-yard loss. Two plays later the Titans turned the ball over on downs.
The Bluebirds took over and embarked on a 10-play scoring drive that McCoy capped with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Collins turned the ball over on downs on its next possession too, before Highlands tallied its final TD. McCoy’s 12-yard scoring run eight plays into the fourth quarter made it 47-0 and began the running clock, via the KHSAA’s “mercy” rule.
“We had people going both ways. It just wore us down,” Page said.
“I thought our kids really responded well in the second half,” Lucas said. “We hadn’t been in that situation before. We’ve been on the other side of it, but they continued to play hard.”
Highlands finished with 476 yards of total offense (323 rushing, 153 passing). McCoy passed for 153 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 105 more yards and two more scores. Meanwhile Seidl rushed for a team-high 115 yards – all in the first half – and one touchdown and Harris gained 96 yards on the ground and had two TDs.
Hope, a 6-foot-3, 216-pound junior defensive end, led the Bluebirds’ defense with nine tackles, including five sacks of Page.
Farris had 125 yards of total offense. He had 10 rushes for 60 yards and eight receptions for 65 yards.
“The whole game seemed to me like it played real fast, and we just couldn’t slow the game down. It felt we were scrambling play-to-play,” Lucas said. “I thought our kids played extremely hard. We just didn’t always play smart, and we weren’t always in the right spots, and we just didn’t make some plays we made all season.
“It’s hard to fault the kids, though. They played hard for four quarters.”
And although the Titans say they know it will be hard, they say they plan to return to Feix Field next year.
“This was a great experience. It was a great opportunity. It was a blessing,” Page said. “But we will be back next year, and we will get revenge.”