Bryan Station almost pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season to go with its first winning season in eight years.
But, in the end, No. 3 Highlands (10-1) had too much for the resurgent Defenders (6-5).
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The Bluebirds' Tony Guidugli found Austin Collinsworth for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds left to put Highlands ahead 28-22 and finish off Bryan Station's stunning upset attempt in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The touchdown toss to Collinsworth capped a 74-yard drive.
"I don't know if there's been another (drive) like that for (Highlands) in the playoffs," Bluebirds Coach Dale Mueller said. "That was as good a drive as I've ever been a part of."
The Bluebirds had already defeated No. 5 Lexington Catholic 41-0 and No. 10 Madison Central 46-0 in the past few weeks, and Highlands hadn't been scored on since Oct. 10.
Even so, the Defenders led 9-7 for a brief period in the first half, and Patrick Cornett's 3-yard touchdown run and Jose Marin's 22-yard field goal gave Bryan Station a 22-21 advantage with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter.
"(Bryan Station) is an awesome football team, but we didn't play very well at all," Mueller said. "I'm really happy with the way we responded with (our) final drive, but we can't play like this if we want to win a state championship."
Guidugli, who completed 12 of 18 passes for 153 yards, responded with his only touchdown pass of the game.
Highlands will play Ashland Blazer next week in the second round of the playoffs.
No. 16 Boone County 48, Paul Dunbar 23: Boone County jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
Junior running back Charles Quainoo, making his first appearance after being injured a few weeks ago in a 14-7 loss to Henry Clay, rushed 18 times for 144 yards.
Sophomore running back Jordan Oppenheimer also had a big game rushing 18 times for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Boone County will host Henry Clay in the second round.
Conner 39, Tates Creek 0: Junior running back Austin Pugh ran for 91 yards and two touchdowns to help lift Conner to its fourth straight win.
The Cougars' dominant performance — they surrendered just 95 total yards — showed they were intensely focused on this night. Conner (7-4) won just its second playoff game in a decade.
Pugh sprinted 48 yards up the middle for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage and the Cougars never looked back.
Tates Creek finished the season 2-9.
The Cougars will play Simon Kenton in the second round.
No. 10 Madison Central 38, Bullitt Central 26: The host Indians (9-2) jumped out to a huge lead before Bullitt Central (8-3) added some scores to make the final margin closer than the game.
Shane King ran for three touchdowns, including two late in the second quarter, to put Madison Central ahead 31-6 with 1:15 left before halftime.
King ran for 96 yards on 14 carries, and teammate Isaiah Kavanaugh carried 19 times for 135 yards.
Next up for the Indians is Male.
No. 7 Scott County 56, Southern 24: The Cardinals (9-2) got 605 yards of total offense and put the visiting Trojans (2-9) away early for the victory.
Jose Smith led the charge for the Cards with 21 carries for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Josh Walls added 124 yards and two scores on eight carries, and Anthony Sandoval had 77 yards on eight attempts. Scott County attempted only four passes. It gained 545 yards on 54 rush attempts.
The Cards will take on Fern Creek in the second round.
No. 5 Lexington Catholic 52, Bourbon County 0: Nic Ward threw three second-quarter touchdown passes, and the host Knights (7-4) scored 42 points by halftime in a rout of the Colonels (3-8).
Catholic outgained Bourbon County 415-58, thanks in large part to Ward, who completed 12 of 18 passes for 187 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Will Letton caught two touchdown passes and Greg Raglin and Lee Ramsey each had a touchdown run.
The Rebels were 1-for-13 on third-down conversions and 1-for-4 on fourth-down conversions. They had just four first downs in the game.
The Knights will next play Harrison County.
Harrison County 42, West Jessamine 13: Senior running backs Aaron Newby and Steven Neal owned the ground game and the host Thorobreds (6-5) ran off with a victory over the Colts (3-8).
Newby carries 12 times for 162 yards, and Neal had nine rushes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Harrison County ran the ball 42 times in all for 347 yards.
Franklin County 52, East Jessamine 6: Junior quarterback Sean Thompson threw six touchdown passes, and the host Flyers (6-5) breezed past East Jessamine (4-7).
Thompson completed 21 of 32 passes for 240 yards.
Senior wide receiver Deron Hicks caught seven passes for 67 yards and three scores, and fellow senior Kevin Stiles had five grabs for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior defensive back Brandon Merriwether had three interceptions, and the Flyers forced six turnovers.
Franklin County will face Boyle County next.
Lexington Christian 62, Lynn Camp 8: Domonique Hayden had 190 yards of offense, and the host Eagles (8-3) ran away from Lynn Camp (4-7).
Hayden had 11 runs for 151 yards and caught two passes for 39 yards. He had four touchdowns. Lucas Witt completed eight of 10 passes for 132 yards and four TDs.
LCA will play Williamsburg in the second round.