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BOWLING GREEN - The Collins High School Titans won the school's first football championship Saturday, beating Fort Thomas Highlands 37-34 in the Class AAAA final at Western Kentucky University's L.T. Smith Stadium. The triumph avenged last season's 47-0 state finals loss to the Bluebirds.
Backup quarterback Browning Becherer hit Nathan Sames on the game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to give the Titans the lead with 7 seconds left in the game.
The touchdown was Becherer's only passing TD of the year, and only his second completion. Becherer, a junior, came into the game for the Titans' final offensive play because starting quarterback and game MVP Lawson Page was forced to the sideline by the officials because his helmet had come off on the previous play.
Collins Head Coach Jerry Lucas argued for Page to stay in the game on the grounds that his helmet was pulled off and didn't just come off, but the officials disagreed.
So Lucas turned to his backup, who hadn't thrown a pass since September.
"It unfolded just the way Coach Lucas said it would," Becherer said.
Lucas added that the junior was very cool and prepared for the play.
"I told him what we were running, and he repeated it right back to me," Lucas said. "'Three-step drop, and hit Nathan running across.' And that's exactly what he did."
The Titans nearly let one slip away after leading almost the whole game, including 30-21 early in the fourth period.
Highlands, however, scored less than a minute after Collins had taken its 9-point lead, then again after the Titans failed to convert on fourth down. Zach Harris' 1-yard touchdown run gave the Bluebirds a 34-30 lead.
The Titans took over on their own 20 with 2:33 to play and quickly moved down the field. Page connected with Dre Farris for a 40-yard gain before a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Bluebirds gave Colins a first down at the Highlands' 25. The Titans then ran six straight running plays, the last of which was a sack of Page which went for a 5-yard loss. His helmet came off at the end of the play, forcing him to the sidelines and forcing Becherer into the game.
Page completed 15 of 23 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown and also rushed for 108 yards. Ryan Watkins rushed for 121 yards and one TD while Farris finished with 43 rushing yards and two TDs. Sames finished with six catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. Senior linebacker Masai Whyte led the Titans' defense with 14.5 tackles and one forced fumble.
Collins took a 23-14 lead on the final play of the third quarter when Page hit Sames for an 8-yard TD.
That drive started when Highlands missed a potential game-tying field goal attempt from 45 yards.
Highlands scored quickly to start the second half, taking a 14-10 lead on a 6-yard TD run.
The Titans answered, though, behind a couple big runs from Page that set up a Farris 4-yard TD, putting the Titans back on top 17-14 with 5:55 to go in the third.
Blanton Creque kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the Titans a 10-7 lead over Highlands going into halftime of the KHSAA Class AAAA State Championship game Saturday, but it was Landon Forrest's big sack on Highland's quarterback Drew Houliston with about 30 seconds left in the half that secured the lead.
After Watkins' 38-yard run set up Creque's field goal, the Bluebirds returned the ensuing kickoff to the Titans' 47-yard line and quickly moved down the field.
Highlands called a timeout with 37 seconds left and the ball on Collins' 13-yard line.
Forrest came with pressure on Houliston's blindside and hammered the QB, causing a fumble recovered by Zach Wilson.
The Titans then took a knee to end the half.
Collins dominated possession in the first half, holding the ball for more than 16 minutes while the Bluebirds high-powered offense was on the field for just under 8 minutes.
Watkins led the rushing attack with 71 yards on 10 carries in the first half. Page picked up 38 yards on 8 carries and also added 49 yards on 6-of-11 passing. Whyte led the defense with 5.5 tackles.
It's the first time Highlands has trailed a Kentucky opponent at halftime in a game since 2006.
The Titans struck first early in the game, taking the opening drive 85 yards and finishing with a Watkins touchdown from the two yard line.
The Bluebirds, the defending AAAA state champions, answered with a 70 yard drive to tie the score.