BOWLING GREEN — Central's Yellowjackets won their fourth state football championship in five years by beating familiar foe Belfry in the Russell Athletic Class 3A finals Saturday afternoon.
Central also bested Belfry for the title in 2007 (27-17) and last year (46-7), but the Yellowjackets had to fight to the finish this time around to pull out a 15-14 victory.
"This is four (titles), and each one gets better and better," Coach Ty Scroggins said. "But this has got to be one of the tops because we had to fight back. It was mad, it was unbelievable."
Tajh Milliken threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Cornelius Bolden with 2:01 left for the winning score.
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Bolden, closely defended by Belfry's Sani Warren, made a spectacular catch in the back right corner of the end zone.
"I wasn't sure my feet were in, but I'm glad they were," Bolden said. "It felt great to pull it out for our team."
Milliken said he was looking for Bolden. "He can make the big play, so I threw it up there for him to go get."
Belfry Coach Philip Haywood was impressed.
"A great throw and a great catch," he said. "Our corner(back) looked like he had pretty good coverage, but they made the play that turned the game around."
Central won without senior star Anthony Wales. The state's third all-time leading rusher suffered a separated shoulder on the second play of the game and didn't return.
"It was very disappointing, this being my last high school game," he said. "But I knew my team would play hard and come out with the win."
After Wales went out, Scroggins had a simple message for his team: "Make sure you do your job and play team football. We're more than Anthony Wales. We're the Central Yellowjackets."
Central built a 9-0 lead on Musa Kamara's 29-yard field goal and Milliken's 10-yard TD pass to TaeShawn Gibbs.
Its defense stymied Belfry in the early going. The Pirates managed only 17 total yards (and no first downs) on their first four possessions.
But they went to the air on the first snap of their fifth possession, and quarterback Tyler Williams threw a 74-yard TD strike to Howie Dotson that made it 9-7.
Belfry's ground game finally found traction in the third quarter behind power back Trey Willis. It drove 54 yards in nine running plays to get the go-ahead TD, with Josh Dixon scoring from the 4.
Central's offense continued to sputter without Wales until it absolutely had to get something done. With just more than three minutes left, the Jackets got the ball on their own 19.
Milliken directed them down the field, and followed Scroggins' orders on the game-winning play.
"I told Tajh, 'Throw it as hard as you can,' and I told (Bolden), 'Run up under the football.' And they did," Scroggins said.
Belfry had one last chance in the closing seconds when it drove to the Central 23. But the Jackets' defense stuffed the Pirates after that, sacking Williams on fourth down.
Haywood, whose 350 career victories are most in state history, thought his team gave a much better effort this year than they did in last December's lopsided loss.
"Last year, Central got out on us and we didn't play well," he said. "I'm really proud of how hard we played today. We lost and we hurt, but I can honestly say the kids laid it all on the field against a very good football team."
Belfry, which won state titles in 2003 and '04, has been runner-up six times.