The Highlands Bluebirds survived a scare on the road as they held off a late rally to beat the Johnson Central Eagles 21-14 on Friday night in Paintsville.
A week after torching Covington Catholic with 465 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, Highlands (12-1) Eagles' standout running back J.J. Jude to 95 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries. The secondary stepped up big throughout, including a game-clinching red zone stop as time ran out.
"The key was we just played great defense. Every single guy on our defensive team just did what they were supposed to," head coach Dale Mueller said in a phone interview for FOX19's Final Quarter. "They never lacked confidence in what we were doing, our defense just played good hard-nosed football."
Johnson Central's (10-3) game plan was evident right from the start. They wanted to grind out drives and keep Highlands' potent offense on the sidelines while keeping their own defense rested. For the most part, it did work. The Bluebirds were not able to find a rhythm offensively, but the unit did enough to win.
Quarterback Patrick Towles started the scoring out with 7-yard, first-quarter touchdown run. The junior would give Highlands a 14-0 lead when he connected with Austin Sheehan with just seven second left in the first half. Towles finished the night with just the one touchdown on 9-of-16 passing with 114 yards and an interception. He added 60 yards and two scores on the ground. Daniel Gold led all receivers with 88 yards on four catches.
The Eagles began to mount a comeback when J.K. Hall picked up a Jordan Streeter fumble and took it the house from 55 yards out. Jude would score to cut the lead to seven, but that is where it would stay.
Highlands is now two wins away from a fourth straight and 20th overall state championship. They stay on the road next week with a trip to Harlan County (11-2), who beat Pulaski County 35-21 on Friday night to advance.