The weather outside was frightful, but most of the football was delightful at the Russell Athletic/KHSAA state championships in Bowling Green last weekend.
Frigid temperatures, ice and snow across the state kept fans away. Total attendance was 24,188 compared to 46,738 in 2012. The Class 4A title game between Collins and Highlands drew only 2,997 fans, the fewest for a finals in more than 10 years.
"More people gutted it out than I ever would've thought," KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said. "It was wonderful to see those that did. Considering the weather some people had to go through to get there, all the teams had a great following. And they got to see some really good games."
The highlights included Collins' stunning 37-34 upset of Highlands; Scott County becoming the first non-Louisville team in 17 years to win the big-school title; Bowling Green capping a third consecutive unbeaten state championship, and Belfry winning a title without scoring a touchdown.
■ Tom Becherer got to live a football coach's and father's dream when he guided Shelby County to a Class 4A state championship in 1987. His son Edmund played tight end on the team. Twenty-six years later, Becherer got to live a coach's and grandfather's dream as defensive coordinator for Collins, which stunned Highlands in the 4A title game last week. Becherer's grandsons — senior quarterback Lawson Page and sophomore backup quarterback Browning Becherer — played key roles in the upset.
Page, the stepson of Becherer's oldest daughter, threw for 178 yards and one touchdown, and ran for 108 yards in leading the Titans to the cusp of victory. With Collins trailing 34-30 and time running out, Page drove his team to the Highlands' 9-yard line before he was thrown for a loss on third down. His helmet came off during the sack so he had to sit out fourth down. Browning Becherer, Edmund's son, was rushed into duty but he kept his cool and threw a 12-yard TD dart to Nathan Sames with 13 seconds left. Collins won 37-34, ending Highlands' bid for a seventh consecutive state title. "I was just stunned," Tom Becherer said. "It all happened so fast. It turned out to be a special night for all of us."
■ Highlands Coach Dale Mueller said a movie should be made about Collins' state title. "It was like Hoosiers. They lost to us 47-0 last year, but came back and beat us this year with their backup quarterback throwing that last touchdown pass."
■ Northern Kentucky did not have a state champ for the first time since 2003.
■ Nacarius Fant of Bowling Green added to his Mr. Football résumé by helping the Purples to a third consecutive state title. He caught two TD passes and had a long punt return to set up a score. Fant finished his career tied for the fifth-most receptions in state history (227), third-most receiving yards (4,473) and fourth-most TD catches (52). He had more than 6,550 all-purpose yards and 62 TDs. He averaged 20 yards every time he touched the ball. "His numbers could have certainly been much better if we had designed our offense to run through him," Coach Kevin Wallace said. "His unselfishness and team spirit are characteristics that allowed our locker room to be such a great place." Fant wore a red Western Kentucky University cap during the Purples' post-game celebration. He has committed to playing for the hometown Hilltoppers.
■ Bowling Green's 44-game winning streak is the third-longest in state history, behind Trinity's 50 in a row (1988-91) and Boyle County's 47 (1999-2002). The Purples' 2014 schedule won't allow them an easy track to breaking Trinity's record. They'll open against Mercer County in the Rafferty's Bowl at WKU and play host Lexington Catholic in the Bluegrass Bowl, followed by a home game against St. Xavier, a trip to Owensboro, then a home game against McCallie, Tenn.
■ Pulaski County sophomore QB Riley Hall and receivers Jake Johnson (freshman) and George Gregory (sophomore) will be a nightmare to defend the next couple of seasons.
■ Scott County star Scott Daniel, who injured his leg in late October and missed a couple games, flashed his old form against Meade County. Daniel, who has committed to Eastern Kentucky University, had two TD catches, including the game-winner with 40 seconds left. "Football's been such a big part of my life," he said. "It's a high school athlete's dream to win the state championship in the last few seconds." Daniel finished his career with 4,773 yards and 52 TDs. He averaged 19.3 yards per touch.
■ Scott County scored 778 points this year, fifth-most in state history. The Cardinals rushed for 72 TDs, tying them for second in the record book behind Mercer County's 87 in 2006. Bryan Station also had 72 in 1999. Scott County rushed for 5,152 yards, seventh-most in state history. It had three players top 1,000 yards rushing: Keith Guy (1,382), Theo Price (1,268) and Kevin Claussen (1,103).
■ Scott County senior Palmer Ward made a state-record 102 (out of 107) extra-point kicks this year. He tied the state career record of 297 set by Lone Oak's Jack Coorts in 2007.
■ Belfry won its third state title under Philip Haywood in its traditional smash-mouth style. Quarterback Sani Warren completed two of four passes for 9 yards in the 3-0 victory over Wayne County. In three state championship victories (2003, '04, '13), Belfry has attempted a total of 10 passes and completed three for 14 yards. Its opponents (Elizabethtown, Owensboro Catholic, Wayne County) totaled 55-of-102 passing for 952 yards. Belfry totaled 1,080 yards rushing in its three finals victories.
■ Here's hoping Williamsburg earns another trip to the finals and won't suffer such stage fright.
■ Bob Schneider, who led Newport Central Catholic to 345 victories and three state titles in 44 years as head coach, has been an assistant the past two seasons. But Schneider, who was on the sideline for the Thoroughbreds' loss to DeSales in the 2A finals, has decided not to coach next year.
■ Highlands senior Drew Houliston passed for 4,035 yards, 50 TDs and only two interceptions this season. Gino Guidugli is the only other Highlands QB to top 4,000 passing yards. He had 4,367 in 2000. The Bluebirds had 62 TD passes this year, third-most in the record book behind Lone Oak's 92 in 2007 and Lexington Catholic's 63 in 2005.
■ The Guhy brothers — Luke and Jake — quarterbacked Mayfield to five consecutive Class A finals and put up remarkably similar numbers in championship games. Luke, who led the Cardinals to a runner-up finish in 2009 and a title in 2010, threw for 566 yards and five TDs and had six interceptions in his finals. Jake, who led Mayfield to a runner-up in 2011 and back-to-back titles in 2012 and '13, threw for 579 yards, five TDs and six interceptions in his finals.
■ Randy Wyatt resigned as Paducah Tilghman coach. He had a six-year record of 48-30 at his alma mater, including a state title in 2009. Wyatt said he didn't have "the energy and passion to keep coaching. It'd be unfair for me to come back and just go through the motions." He leaves knowing he added to the program's legacy. "Tilghman has been here 100 years, and only three head coaches won state titles. To be one of them with Dan Haley and Allan Cox goes a long way." Wyatt will continue to coach track and field at Tilghman.
■ Bob Sphire, who coached Lexington Catholic to a state title 2005, has North Gwinnett in Georgia's 6A finals. The Bulldogs play Norcross on Saturday night in the Georgia Dome. Sphire's son Hayden quarterbacks North Gwinnett's spread offense. Sphire will also coach the East team in the Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in San Antonio.
■ The Best of the Bluegrass all-star football game, matching seniors from the Louisville area against seniors from the rest of the state, is Sunday at 2 p.m. at St. Xavier. Admission is $10.
■ The Kentucky High School Football Coaches Association's players of the year in each class: Mayfield's Jake Guhy (A), Caldwell County's Elijah Sindelar (2A), Wayne County's Tyler Guffey (3A), Collins' Lawson Page (4A), Conner's Drew Barker (5A) and Scott County's Scott Daniel (6A). KHSFCA's coaches of the year: Bethlehem's Ron Koontz (A), Caldwell County's David Barnes (2A), Wayne County's Shawn Thompson (3A), Owensboro's Joe Prince (4A), Pulaski County's Johnny Hines (5A) and Scott County's Jim McKee (6A).
■ In boys' basketball, Lexington Catholic's 74-71 overtime loss at Cordia last Saturday took more than three hours to play. Sixty-six fouls were called, and the teams shot 94 free throws. Lexington Catholic made 29 of 46. Cordia made 32 of 48.
■ Lafayette's boys play in the Gonzaga DC Classic in Washington, D.C., this weekend. The Generals face host Gonzaga on Friday in the eight-team tournament. Cory Heitz, who played at Lexington Catholic with Lafayette Coach Mike Mendenhall III in the mid-1990s, is on the staff at Gonzaga. He's currently the team's college recruiting specialist. Gonzaga is led by junior point guard Bryant Crawford, who has offers from Indiana, UConn, Georgetown and Texas.
Upcoming high school basketball events
Kentucky Bank Shootout
At Bourbon County
Friday: Bourbon Co. vs. Paris (girls), 5:30 p.m.; Bourbon Co. vs. Clark Co., 7:15; Henderson Co. vs. Henry Clay, 9.
Saturday: Anderson Co. vs. Wolfe Co., 2; Covington Scott vs. Tates Creek, 3:45; Paris vs. Breathitt Co., 5:30; Henderson Co. vs. Montgomery Co., 7:15.
Capital City Rumble
At Frankfort Convention Center
Saturday: Paul Laurence Dunbar vs. Medina, Ohio, noon; Hargrave Military vs. Dayton Dunbar, 1:45; Scott Co. vs. East Carter (girls), 3:30; Johnson Central vs. New Philadelphia, Ohio, 5:15; Woodford Co. vs. Brunswick, Ohio, 7; Henry Clay vs. Trinity, 8:45.
Lady Defender Classic
At Bryan Station
Saturday: Covington Holy Cross vs. Tates Creek, 11:30 a.m.; Nelson Co. vs. Beechwood, 1; Ryle vs. Lafayette, 2:30; Notre Dame vs. Henry Clay, 4; Bourbon Co. vs. Bryan Station, 5:30; Glasgow vs. Holmes, 7.
McDonald's Woodford County Invitational
At Woodford County
Dec. 19: Woodford Co. vs. Tates Creek, 6; Jeffersontown vs. Bryan Station, 7:45.
Dec. 20: Scott Co. vs. Eastern, 6; Paul Laurence Dunbar vs. Frankfort, 7:45.
Dec. 21: Consolation games, 2 and 3:45; semifinals, 5:30 and 7:15.
Dec. 22: Consolation games, 2, 3:45, 5:30; championship game, 7:15.
King of the Bluegrass
Dec. 19: Newport Central Catholic vs. Memphis Mitchell, 4:30; Fairdale vs. Elizabethtown, 6; PRP vs. Henry Clay 7:30; Lafayette vs. Trinity, 9.
Dec. 20: Hopkinsville vs. Fort Myers, Fla., 4:30; Johnson Central vs. Thomas Nelson, 6; Ballard vs. New Orleans Riverview, 7:30; Perry Central vs. Shaker Heights, Ohio, 9.
Dec. 21: Hopkinsville-Fort Myers winner vs. Newport Central Catholic-Mitchell winner, 4:30; Fairdale-Elizabethtown winner vs. Lafayette-Trinity winner, 6; Ballard-Riverview winner vs. Perry Central-Shaker Heights winner, 7:30; Johnson Central-Thomas Nelson winner vs. PRP-Henry Clay winner, 9.
Dec. 22: Semifinals, 7:30 and 9.
Dec. 23: Finals, 7:30.