BOWLING GREEN — Nobody considered this year's Highlands football team to be a juggernaut, nothing like the Jared Lorenzen-led Bluebirds who demolished Waggener 56-7 in the 1998 state finals, or the Highlands bunch that was rated among the nation's top five last season.
Most people didn't even consider this Highlands team to be on the same level as the school's state champions the previous three years.
But these Bluebirds sure looked great in crushing Christian County 50-0 in the Class 5A finals before 5,959 fans in Houchens Industries-Smith Stadium Saturday night.
Because it was the Bluebirds' largest margin of victory in any of their state-record 20 title victories, Coach Dale Mueller said, "that makes this team the best football team in Highlands history."
He punctuated his statement with a laugh, but he made his point. These Bluebirds were at their best when it counted the most.
"This was our best game by far, our best all year long," said Mueller, who became the first coach in state history to win nine titles.
Junior quarterback Patrick Towles was the obvious star. He had a career night in the first half when he ran for 165 yards and five touchdowns to stake his team to a 33-0 lead.
But Towles, the grandson of baseball Hall of Famer and U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, was quick to credit his offensive line — Ryan Hahn, Robby Nienaber, Austin Trapp, Keenan Weigand and Aaron Robinson — and running back Corey Compton, for giving him room to roam.
"I gotta give it all to them," Towles said.
"We came in ready to go. Everybody, offense and defense, came together. This is the game where you want to play your best, and we did."
Christian County, led by star quarterback Anthony Hickey and receiver Marcoreyon "Bubba" Tandy, was expected to test Highlands.
But the Colonels were the ones who flunked the test.
Hickey was smothered by the Highlands' defense all night. He completed five of 15 passes for 66 yards and was intercepted four times. He ran 10 times for a net 9 yards.
Tandy had 113 all-purpose yards but never came close to scoring.
"It was all discipline," said Billy Huddleston, who returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown.
"Don't get me wrong. They were faster than us, but we had discipline and great coaching, and that's what we're all about."
Huddleston's pick-six came with 5:48 left in the third quarter and made it 50-0. That meant the rest of the game was played with a non-stop clock and probably kept the blowout from reaching more ridiculous proportions.
Highlands finished the year 14-1. It has won 54 of its last 55 games against Kentucky competition, and 58 of 60 overall.
The bad news for the rest of 5A is that the Bluebirds return quite a few starters, including Towles, and their freshman and junior varsity went undefeated this season.