Just when Highlands seemed set to crush Lexington Catholic, the Knights came roaring back in Friday's 4A State football semifinals.
Back, but not all the way back as visiting Highlands held on for a 49-35 victory.
The Bluebirds (13-1) will shoot for a seventh consecutive state title next weekend at Bowling Green, taking on Collins in a rematch of last year's finals.
Catholic (10-4) also lost to Highlands in the semifinals the last two years.
Drew Houliston threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns, leading Highlands to a 42-7 halftime lead.
"We throw a lot. ... It was there tonight and we just took what the defense gave us," Houliston said. "Last week, we were running it more ... but we've been versatile all year."
With a running clock instituted in the second quarter, Catholic was in hurry-up mode when it rallied in the second half.
The Knights' Reese Ryan wound up throwing for 365 yards and four touchdowns, including second-half bull's-eyes of 31, 2 and 15 yards to David Bouvier. Bouvier finished with eight catches for 150 yards.
"That was fun and exciting," Catholic Coach Bill Letton said. "We dug ourselves in too deep a hole in the first quarter with the turnovers and big over-the-top plays. But they made the plays in the first quarter and we spent the rest of the night trying to overcome them. I'm proud of our team."
The Bluebirds were simply unstoppable out of the gate, taking the opening kickoff and marching downfield for a 21-yard touchdown run by Zach Harris, then converting back-to-back fumble recoveries into TDs.
Griffin Urlage's recovery led to a 19-yard TD pass from Houliston to Jenson Feggins.
Brady Murray's takeaway set up a 41-yard Houliston-to-Feggins scoring strike for a 21-0 lead through a quarter.
Second quarter, Houliston hooked up with Beau Hoge for a 19-yard TD and Alex Veneman for an 86-yarder.
The latter, with a two-point conversion, made it 36-0 and started a running clock.
"We wanted to get a running clock," Bluebirds Coach Dale Mueller said. "It's such a competitive advantage. If you can get up and get a clock going, it just helps you so much.
"So we got the running clock and then I think we relaxed as a team. And that's a heck of a football team — you just can't relax on them. They came roaring back, and you've got to give them a lot of credit for it. That's a team that takes their football seriously, and came back and made a game of it."
After Catholic scored on a 44-yard pass from Reese Ryan to Noah Mitchell, Highlands countered with a 1-yard run by Harris. Harris finished with 86 yards on 10 carries.
The Knights needed only two scrimmage plays to open the second-half scoring — passes of 37 and 31 yards to Bouvier.
Malik Guidry's interception set up another Bouvier TD catch, this one for 2 yards.
Noah Mitchell's 1-yard TD run with 6:43 left in the game made it a 42-28 game, and the Knights' Carter Gray recovered an onsides kick.
That led to Bouvier's 15-yard scoring grab and a 42-35 contest with 3:45 left.
Another onsides kick backfired, though, as Brandon Hergott returned the ball to Catholic's 12, setting up a 1-yard Harris TD run with 2:23 left.
Had there not been a running clock, the Knights might have had a chance to come all the way back.
"Never know," Letton said. "But that's the rule as it stands and, unfortunately, we put ourselves in a position to have to fight against it."
The teams combined for nearly 900 yards of offense — 450 for Highlands, 437 for Catholic.
HIGHLANDS 49, LEXINGTON CATHOLIC 35
Highlands 21 21 0 7 — 49
Lexington Catholic 0 7 14 14 — 35
H—Zach Harris 21 run (Jared Dougherty kick); H—Jenson Feggins 19 pass from Drew Houliston (Dougherty kick); H—Feggins 41 pass from Houliston (Daugherty kick); H—Beau Hoge 19 pass from Houliston (Daugherty kick); H—Alex Veneman 86 pass from Houliston (Harris run); LC—Noah Mitchell 44 pass from Reese Ryan (Donovan Morris kick); H—Harris 1 run (Dougherty kick); LC—David Bouvier 31 pass from Ryan (Morris kick); LC—Bouvier 2 pass from Ryan (Morris kick); LC—Bouvier 15 pass from Ryan (Morris kick); H—Harris 1 run (Dougherty kick).
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.