BOWLING GREEN — Highlands has won so many state football titles that it's hard to remember them all. But the Bluebirds' 23rd championship will be unforgettable.
Down 42-21 at halftime, Highlands rallied to beat Owensboro 49-42 in the Russell Athletic/KHSAA Class 4A finals Saturday night in front of 7,521 fans in WKU's L.T. Smith Stadium.
"Not one time did we consider panicking," first-year coach Brian Weinrich said.
Was Highlands at least a little concerned at halftime?
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"Nope," said senior quarterback Beau Hoge. "We knew we were capable of coming back. No doubt at all."
It was Highlands' seventh title in the last eight years.
Weinrich said the Bluebirds' comeback was simply a matter of executing one play at a time. "That's what we do. One play, one play, one play.
"At the end of the day, the guys just played."
Austin Beal's 70-yard interception return for a touchdown tied the game 42-42 early in the fourth quarter. It was the perfect way for Beal to mark his 17th birthday.
"It's the most amazing thing that ever happened to me," he said. "When I got the (interception), I told myself I had to keep my balance and take it to the house."
Highlands’ defense came up with another pick on Owensboro’s next possession. This time Daniel Kremer deflected the Red Devils’ pass and teammate James Hinkel snatched it out of the air.
The Bluebirds then drove 73 yards in 11 plays to take a 49-42 lead on Hoge’s 1-yard TD run with 2:30 left.
Owensboro’s last-chance possession ended with yet another interception, with Grayson Heck getting the pick to seal the victory.
Hoge, who has committed to BYU, led Highlands by throwing for 205 yards and two TDs, and running for 78 yards and three scores.
"We knew they were explosive," Owensboro Coach Joe Prince said. "That kid's going to BYU for a reason."
Alex Veneman had eight catches for 66 yards, and Mitchell Cain had two catches for 59 yards and a TD.
Griffin Urlage led the ground attack, carrying 26 times for 157 yards and a TD.
Highlands outgained Owensboro 455 yards to 413. The Red Devils managed only 119 yards in the second half.
Nick Locher wound up passing for 159 yards and three TDs. Rodney Collier had eight catches for 111 yards and two TDs. T.J. James rushed for 103 yards and two TDs.
"We knew we could move the ball and we did, in the first half," Prince said. "We just didn't finish the job."
Rocco Pangallo and Jacob Noe led the led Highlands' defense in tackles.
"Highlands deserved to win," Prince said. "They came back from 21 down and made it happen."
Owensboro, which was looking for its first state title since 1986, also lost in the finals to Highlands in 1999 and 2000.